By STEPHEN KRCMAR
Like snowbladers on powder days, Burning Man is fun to make fun of. Complete with more dirt-caked, naked people than you can shake a box of baby wipes at, the week-long festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert has been lovingly goofed on by The Simpsons and parodies on YouTube.
Although most people know the week climaxes on Saturday night, when a huge structure — this year it was 66-feet tall — that’s capped by the Burning Man himself burns, only those more familiar with the event know about the temple.
Found about 1/4 mile behind the man, a bit closer to the perimeter of the grounds and deeper into the depths of the playa, it’s different than any part of the non-stop party that is Burning Man. Art cars that cruise the event with huge sound systems turn off the tunes when they’re close. And the vibe near the temple becomes more somber and meditative as you get closer.
Shaped like a lotus flower this year, the temple is where festival attendees — “burners” — go to reflect on those they have lost, human or animal. Many write notes to the deceased. Others include pictures, mass cards or obituaries. To say it’s an emotional place doesn’t do it justice.
And this year, front and center, if that’s possible on a circular structure, was a tribute to skier Shane McConkey, which included the 32-page tribute from this September’s Powder magazine as well as multiple snapshots of Shane with his wife Sherry and daughter Ayla.
Getting choked up while taking the scene in went without saying. Some let the tears flow, others turned about face and walked back towards the party, and many climbed the ramp to investigate the rest of the temple.
On the second floor, you could find another McConkey memorial, which included his Volant Spatula ski, the reverse-camber, reverse-cut fat board that began humbly as a sketch on a bar napkin in Argentina in 1996. Two years later, Volant reluctantly agreed to make four pairs of these skis by hand, even though their engineers thought the idea was laughable.
But Shane got the last laugh — the game-changing powder skis as we know them were born two years later and all pow skiers benefited. If there’s one legacy or theme from Shane’s life that runs through the anecdotes it is that he always got the last laugh, but it was inclusive. Whether it was his antics as Saucer Boy or skiing a run at the pro mogul tour in the buff — and throwing a backflip! — he took his play damn seriously. And that is just about impossible to make fun of.
The temple, along with Shane’s memorials, were lit on Sunday night and it all went up in flames. A fiery send-off to extraordinary group of folks. Godspeed, Shane.
To help out McConkey’s wife and daughter, go here: Shane McConkey Memorial Website
—Stephen Krcmar, a Gear Junkie correspondent, wrote this article originally for Mammoth Mountain Live Vibe. He attended this year’s Burning Man.