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Powder keeps pummeling Vail Valley; McConkey memories; hard helmet lessons from Richardson death
Jason Roberts found plenty of freshies at Beaver Creek recently, where (as of Tuesday morning) more than 8 inches had fallen since Sunday. Vail has had more than a foot, and more than four feet in the last eight days.
By Cody Downard/Vail Resorts 

Powder keeps pummeling Vail Valley; McConkey memories; hard helmet lessons from Richardson death

By David O. Williams

March 31, 2009 —  It’s snowed about a foot in Vail since Sunday evening (8 inches at Beaver Creek), and was snowing lightly, extremely frigid and blowing quite a bit Tuesday morning. Welcome to almost-April (aka, Winter Part II) in the Vail Valley.

More snow is headed our way Wednesday, and yet another storm is lined up for later in the week. All told, we’ve had more than four feet of fresh snow since early last week. Conditions are beyond stellar.

I wasn’t able to sample the goods Monday and Tuesday, although I heard it was quite good on the hill, because I was hindered by a little thing called work. I did, however, because the kids were out of school on spring break, ski four straight days (Thursday through Sunday) last week (Days 36-39).

Thursday was one of the best days of the year, with a foot of new snow at Beaver Creek on top of two feet earlier in the week. I got my oldest son (8-year-old Nick) to jump into Stone Creek Chutes for the first time in his young life, and what was thigh-deep on me was waist-deep on him. A powder pup was born.

Friday was another epic family day at Vail, and then on Saturday my wife and I enjoyed First Tracks (lifts crank up at 7:30 a.m.) with the good folks from the Gore Range Natural Science School (look for an article on their new campus in Avon in the coming weeks on Thanks so much, GRNSS, for the invite. You guys rock.

The snow was a bit set-up and frozen (four degrees Fahrenheit when we got on the Vista Bahn), but it was worth it just to see the sun rise above the Gore Range and to have Sun Down Bowl all to ourselves.

Sunday was a day at the races on Golden Peak as the Vail Development Team hosted the Youth Ski League Championships for some 250 young racers. Kudos to all the Devo instructors who did such a great job putting on the YSL GS (and thanks for the crash course in gate keeping).

So that’s the happy ski notes for the week. On a much, much sadder note, I didn’t know former Vail resident Shane McConkey too well (he was skiing on the Pro Mogul Tour after I had already moved from sports to news at the Vail Daily in the early 90s), but his extraordinary accomplishments on skis, in the air and on film will be forever etched into my skiing psyche.

McConkey is a legend of the sport on par with the great Doug Coombs, and his death last week while ski BASE jumping off a cliff for a film segment in Italy is a real blow to the skiing world. What really sucks is that he died due to a technical glitch, but that just underscores the fine line between life and death at the outer reaches of our sport.

Coombs just lost an edge and went over a cliff while trying to save a skiing buddy in France. Both these guys knew the risks and gladly accepted them, but that doesn’t mean they both won’t be missed in a big way, both on film and in real life.

McConkey will forever be remembered in the annals of Vail for being banned for life for skiing naked after being disqualified for an illegal back flip in a mogul competition. That’s the spirit that’s slowly been bleeding out of Vail season after season since the death of BB&B and the demise of the Ravinos. For that memory alone, Shane, salutes you.

Also last week, besides having to explain to Nick and my 5-year-old son Max who McConkey was and why if you do ski naked you should at least wear a helmet, I also had to explain to them who actress Natasha Richardson was.

Remember when the Vail PR flacks were so fun they did things like host a special screening of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace? Well, trust me, they used to be. They’re still cool, but apparently they don’t have a budget for such nonsense these days.

Anyway, by way of explaining Richardson’s death from an apparent subdural hematoma (bleeding on the brain) suffered when she hit her helmet-less head while skiing in Canada, I told Nick and Max that she was married to Qui-Gon Jinn (aka Liam Neeson), who tragically died in light-saber battle with Darth Maul in Star Wars I.

This put Richardson’s death in perspective for Nick and Max, who have at times questioned my insistence on helmets (I even started wearing one myself to avoid hypocrisy).

My dad very nearly succumbed to a subdural hematoma a few years ago, from a blow to the head he didn’t even remember receiving (might have whacked it on the trunk of his car). Doctors caught it just in time to drill a hole in his skull and let the blood out.

Just this past weekend I caught an edge skiing at Vail and the first thing that hit the snow, and quite hard, was my head. Actually, my helmet hit first.

Thankfully, the snow has been fluffy enough lately to soften the blow of falling, but it doesn’t take much. So wear your brain bucket, and enjoy (we have less than three weeks to go).



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