Steve Pike

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

The base jumper drops off bridges and cliffs with a para­chute. Most peo­ple know that.

Wing­suit fly­ers jump with a para­chute wear­ing ar­ti­fi­cial wings that en­able them to fly, al­most lit­er­ally. Most peo­ple get that.

As you move pro­gres­sively to­wards the red zone of the in­san­ity con­tin­uum, you get the scary com­bi­na­tion of a snow skier wear­ing a wing­suit and a para­chute ski­ing down slopes that end in a cliff.

At high speed, just be­fore he hits the lip, so to speak, he sheds his ski poles and leans for­ward, legs to­gether and arms at his side.

He blasts off the precipice into the ver­tig­i­nous vac­uum. The more dar­ing will per­form tricks, such as back­flips and som­er­saults.

Then he pulls a Vel­cro strap that ejects the skis. The mad­cap tum­ble in space morphs from ski stunt to winged flight. Soar­ing at speeds of al­most 300km/h, he fol­lows the con­tours of the rock face that whip past me­tres away from his arm – out­stretched like a surfer might when he wants to drag a hand in the wave he is rid­ing.

Ex­cept this is one gi­ant, im­mov­able wave and made of less-for­giv­ing gran­ite or stone. Look but don’t touch.

One of the pioneers of this ex­ceed­ingly dan­ger­ous mix­ture of ski­ing, wing­suit and base jump­ing was Cana­dian Shane McCon­key.

I met his widow Sherry last week at the pre­miere of his film at the Wavescape Film Fes­ti­val called, sim­ply, McCon­key.

Orig­i­nally from the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, Sherri her­self has base jumped, rock climbed and moun­tain biked around the moun­tains of Lake Ta­hoe, where she now lives as a sin­gle mom with her eight-year-old daugh­ter Ayla.

Red Bull had flown her out espe- cially to at­tend the pre­miere. In front of a full house at the Labia, she qui­etly in­tro­duced the film. It took less than 30 sec­onds. She just said it was spe­cial, and she hoped peo­ple would en­joy the movie. Her un­der­state­ment was in stark con­trast to the story that fol­lowed.

McCon­key’s adren­a­line-fu­elled life be­gan with ski rac­ing as a young­ster. He was a can­di­date for the US ski team but nar­rowly missed out on se­lec­tion. He al­most be­came a ski bum af­ter the re­jec­tion, but soon found that his crazy dis­re­gard for per­sonal safety and a pen­chant for in­vent­ing new ski tricks and even ski de­signs was a way to se­cure a ca­reer.

He starred in a bunch of ex­treme ski movies and soon carved a niche as one of the main “go-to” guys for ski stunts.

On an in­sa­tiable quest to find big­ger thrills, McCon­key dis­cov­ered base jump­ing and wing­suit fly­ing. For sev­eral years he steadily worked his way through the many ter­ri­fy­ing types of jumps that com­prise the acro­nym: Build­ings, An­ten­nae, Spans ( bridges) and Earth (cliffs and rock­faces).

UL­RICH GRILL/RED BULL

COLD SHIV­ERS: Shane McCon­key in launch mode dur­ing train­ing in Haines in Alaska.

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