I am a product of heroes. The first ski magazine I ever read was the Powder tribute to McConkey. To a clueless young gaper he represented everything cool about skiing. I watched his segment in Claim over and over again. His joy and love of life were infectious, I looked up to and admired a man I never met.
Fast forward almost five years and skiers like McConkey, Johnson and Auclair are still the biggest influencers on my attitude about skiing. On the surface it seems a little ridiculous. I never met them. I never knew they existed until they were gone but every day I try to ski and live a little like they did. Heroes are, by nature, like that. Heroes are people whose personalities transcend normal barriers.
As I grew as a skier I quickly found other heroes. Emulation is an integral part of skiing and our sport has no shortage of leaders. As I became part of the larger ski community I quickly realized that my heroes consistently left too soon. CR Johnson, Sarah Burke, Arne Backstrom, Kip Garre, Timy Dutton, Andreas Fransson, JP Auclair and others, more names than I care to remember. I was left trying to deal with their exits.
These people knew the risks they were taking. They knew that any financial reward was negligible but they still chose to put their life on the line. They were no different than any other skier, we all take risks with no tangible reward but the joy they give us. Tanner Hall summed it up: "At the end of the day it's just skiing. It isn't for the money or the sponsors, but for the love of the sport."
They understand, they know what they are getting themselves into. How do we deal with it though? We are left sitting, stunned, unable to comprehend. Eventually we pull ourselves together. We put stickers on our helmets and raise money in their name and try to stay positive, to move on. We try to honor them with the joy they gave us. Our greatest tribute to them is our enthusiasm for the sport they loved.
Shane said, ”There's something really cool about getting scared. I don't know what." CR summed it all up with another perspective: “The joy I get from skiing, that's worth dying for.” In the wake of recent events Tanner Hall offered this consolation, “there are so many ways to go out. But they left doing what they loved. Not getting hit by a train, or a drunk driver, but skiing. Someone up there was looking out.”
Too often we wallow in our sorrow. We mourn men and women who would not wish to be mourned. We respect these people because they lived their lives to the fullest. We should not use their passing as an excuse to stop pushing, to stop living.
Sometimes people outside of the skiing community don't get it. Sometimes we embarrass ourselves. Should that movie about a man you never met make you feel all emotional? Is it stupid to holler “This one’s for you!” before you drop in? No, get over yourself, embrace what they gave skiing, commemorate them by loving what they gave all of us. Don't be too cool to mourn and dont be too sad to celebrate. “Just ski down there and jump off of something for crying out loud!”
“Who becomes friends with their childhood idol?” Mike Rogge asked. I’ve never met any of these heroes, never had the chance to be directly influenced by them but their passing still hits me hard. It’s a testament to their charisma and influence that so many who never knew them personally are still deeply affected by their passing. We can all ski on, knowing that we are shaped and inspired by those who have gone before. We are their legacy and as long as we push on their influence remains. Maybe Shane was a little prophetic when he proclaimed, “I’m Shane McConkey dammit, and I’M NOT. DONE. YET!” Our heroes will never be done as long as we are stoked about the mountains and sport they loved.
Don't be content with your condolences, don't leave it at a SIP in a thread or a line in your signature. Do something better with their inspiration. Strive to be like these heroes, don't just settle for remembering them.