Friends and Colleagues Mourn the Passing of Hank McKee, Legendary Ski Journalist
Ski Racing — and ski racing — lost one of its most beloved and respected chroniclers on November 5, 2016. Hank McKee, who had worked at Ski Racing for 36 years and traveled the world to cover events in just about every ski discipline, died peacefully at his home in Duxbury, Vt. Fittingly, he was working at his computer keyboard at the time. He was 66.
Those who knew Hank will always remember him as a one-of-a-kind free spirit, who was devoted to his family and friends, loved his job covering the sport of ski competition, and made fun — for him and for others — a priority throughout his life. In a career at Ski Racing that began in 1980, he followed and wrote about the world’s top skiers, and was also the creator and gatekeeper of the most coveted database in the sport. Updated every year in Ski Racing’s “Redbook,” which became the worldwide bible of ski competition, Hank’s stats and competition history included everyone from youngsters in Vermont to World Cup stars from across North America, Europe, and beyond.
For Ski Racing, he wrote mostly about alpine and freestyle competition at all levels, from juniors to the World Cup, from local races to FIS World Championships and the Winter Olympics. In a career that began in the print-only days of the ’80s and ended with work for SkiRacing.com, he became known among his colleagues as someone who could write about any discipline, at any distance: He could provide a colorful story even for those events he wasn’t actually present at to cover.
Away from work, Hank was a colorful character in his own right. He was the lead singer for many years for a rock band called The Wretched Group. And he was the combination groundskeeper, promoter, scorekeeper, archivist, and avid competitor at St. Divot’s Golf & Sledding Club, the now-legendary venue he carved out of the hilly, rocky piece of Vermont that he and his family called home.
One of the highlights of Hank’s long career came in 2010, when he received the FIS Journalist Award, presented by ski racing’s international governing body for career contributions to the sport on a worldwide basis. Other winners of the award, initiated in 1996, include Hank’s friend and colleague Paul Robbins — a longtime Ski Racing correspondent — who was honored posthumously in 2009. Presenting the award to Hank were the U.S. Ski Team’s Tom Kelly, then chair of the FIS PR and Mass Media Committee, and Gary Black Jr., then publisher of Ski Racing and the recipient of the same award in 2007. Also in 2010, Hank received the inaugural Paul Robbins Journalist Award from the Vermont Ski Museum.
“This award is like the Oscar for what I do,” McKee said after being honored by the FIS. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this. My dad was a newspaper editor and introduced me to writing. He taught me about the sheer joy of writing, and writing well, which is its own joy, much like skiing. And he also taught me about excellence.”
“Hank’s personal passion for ski racing benefited athletes over many generations,” said Tom Kelly, after he heard about Hank’s passing. “In working with athletes, he made a personal connection. In covering his beats, most notably alpine ski racing and freestyle, he became an historian for our sport. Together with the late Paul Robbins, he cataloged those benchmarks in time and the storylines that brought so much personality to the coverage of ski racing.”
His colleagues at Ski Racing, past and present, were bereft when they heard about Hank’s death. “Hank was a uniquely talented storyteller long before he ever joined our staff, and for the last 36 years he was instrumental to our coverage of the sport on every conceivable level all around the globe,” said Claire Brown, SkiRacing.com’s publisher and COO. “He got in the mix at local races in the East to interview young juniors and was just as comfortable at the finish line of the annual Beaver Creek World Cup. We already miss his lively contributions to our weekly staff calls and historical insight into every imaginable topic. Hank was our go-to resource not simply for statistics and results, but for perspective and levity. When we referred to him as the veteran on our team, it was with utmost respect and humility for all he has given to this sport. We can only hope to carry on but a sliver of his immense character in our future reporting.”
Hank is survived by his wife, Mame, and their four children: Cassey McKee, Jessica Mame Ramey, Mina LaFarge, and Ron Juckett. Note that friends have started a crowdfunding drive to help Mame and the family with both funeral and memorial expenses, as well as some home improvements, including a much-needed new furnace.
SkiRacing.com will host a remembrance celebration in honor of Hank for media members, family and friends at the Killington World Cup on Friday, Nov. 25. More details will be available shortly.
What They’re Saying
As news of Hank McKee’s death spread by social media, colleagues past and present were quick to weigh in on his career, and the loss they felt at his passing. We’re going to share a few of them here, and we hope you will add your recollections via the comments section, below.
“Hank McKee was one of those guys who had towering stacks of papers and books on his desk, enough to make you nervous to enter his cubicle for fear of getting lost under the impending avalanche. Regardless, you couldn’t resist going into his space because he never once failed to greet you with a big warm smile and how-can-I-help-you approach. For all the statistical information that lay in tangible stacks on his desk, he had an even greater, intangible collection of statistical knowledge both inside his computer and inside his head. If you were having a bad day, it never failed that a visit to Hank’s space was a way to brighten things because of his wonderful, long lingering laugh.
“But as it is for so many of us, some of our fondest Hank memories come from the days when Ski Racing was based in Vermont and all the staff lived there. It was the night that Hank won the first “Some Like It Hot” competition at Sam Rupert’s restaurant with his fiery wings. It was the many softball games with Hank playing catcher for Team Ski Racing. It was the parties where everyone who played an instrument on the staff (and there were many of us), broke out those instruments and we had a big old jam session with Hank and Josie Ritter leading the way. It was nights in Las Vegas after Ski Show Daily was put to bed. And it was covering the many events of the World Cup where we all bonded as family, with Hank as the loving big brother.
“Our hearts break for his family, and for his extended ski journalism family. We have lost an understated, dedicated, huge-hearted and big-laughing member of the family, and he will be missed immensely.”
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Perkins Miller, former Ski Racing writer and editor, now general manager, North America, for StubHub, the ticket sales operation:
“I remember Hank for his laugh, a constant companion no matter the situation. Working under deadline for Ski Racing? Laughter. Covering a freestyle comp? Something’s funny. Cranking out stories at the Olympics? Cracking up. And then there were the extracurricular activities: skinny dipping at lunch, the August Sabbatical, and, of course, founding St. Divot’s Golf & Sledding Club. I remember playing the “Fire Hole” (a par three with a bonfire in the “fairway”) and watching Hank sell Andy Bigford (then Ski Racing’s editor), a sponsorship to the fall tournament, which included “outdoor advertising”: Painting Bigford’s name on the side of Hank’s house. And when winter arrived, we would rip down Hank’s snow-packed road in the dark on Flexible Flyers. I’m sure his life was not always easy and fun, but he sure made it look that way. I was honored to be swept up in it for a while.”
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Steve Porino, former writer at Ski Racing, who now covers ski competition and bike racing for NBC:
“McKee was the best: My mentor in writing, and in humility. He gave everything to Ski Racing Magazine and ski racing in general. And he asked for nothing in return. Never ski raced himself, hardly ever had the time just to ski, but spent a lifetime championing the privileged many who did and do. I wish every kid in the 1980s to 1990s could have witnessed the weekly drumroll on his keyboard—more like a symphony of anvils dropping—to hammer out pages of results, from the World Cup right down to the likes of the Chocolate Tobler Series. It was a massacre of keyboards and time, all so we could see our names in print. Thanks yous were sparse compared to the phone calls about the kid who was left out. Hank always took it with a thunderous laugh (after he put down the receiver) but anguished over the omission all the same. Our duty now is to be sure Hank’s name is never left off the list of the great chroniclers of our sport. For me personally, he’s got a permanent spot on my list as one of the greats, period.”
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Nate Vinton, former Ski Racing colleague and author of The Fall Line:
“With Hank’s death, ski racing loses a big friend and Ski Racing loses someone who gave it continuity through big changes, from its all-print roots to its all-digital present. It wasn’t always easy. He was always gracious and devoted. And Mame was always there in his corner. Such a great couple.
“But his work was to get all of that colorful history and knowledge down for future generations. There’s a big part of my cellar filled with hundreds of his stories and it adds up to a panoramic vision of the sport.
“Hank was so kind, generous, calm, and knowledgeable. I used to love asking him questions about the Pro Tour, the Canadian ski team, and what was special about Marc Girardelli. He was a walking database, for sure, with a vast amount of racing understanding at his fingertips in his special statistical programs, which were unique before the Internet, and are still critical collections today.
“Before the Internet, it was a really big deal to have your name published in print. For every issue of Ski Racing, Hank wrote a round-up of junior results, with standout performers in bold type. Parents all over the country would clip those and put them in scrapbooks. Kids could look at results of both their J-III races and the World Cup and begin to see it all as connected, which of course it was. You couldn’t just go online back then and look up results.
“I won’t forget visiting him at home after Ski Racing was sold in 2003, or after Hurricane Sandy almost took them out. It was about a week after the storm, and he and Mame were hard at work helping neighbors and their community. Great people. I miss Hank.”
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DC Robbins, son of the late Paul Robbins, and longtime family friend:
“We lost one of the best and one of the originals (in every sense of the word) with a heart as full as his laugh and his stellar ‘stache (it’s seriously magical). Anyone who knows my dad was aware of his unique (shall we say) ways of nicknaming everyone in his illustrious e-mail lists. Hank’s nickname was ‘Database’ for a very good reason in a pre-Internet world where every bit of information wasn’t available at the drop of a thought. When Google needed to verify ski racing facts, they called Hank. … The times may change, but passion never wanes and we’re all better for having Hank cross our sky and show us which stars we should pay attention to.”
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Joe Jay Jalbert, also a former FIS Journalism Award winner, whose Jalbert Productions made films about ski racing:
“Wow, what a shock and tragic loss. Another great mountain man joins an awaiting team upstairs. He was a great man who gave endlessly to our sport and his fellow friends. He will be missed.”
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Tim Etchells, former Ski Racing editor:
“I, too, remember Hank’s laughter, and a moment when it came at my expense. Each year, the Ski Racing Redbook included competitor bios for thousands of ski racers. And there was a time when the list included an Austrian skier named Helmut Mittens. Or so I thought. Turned out, Helmut, with his lengthy list of accomplishments, was a figment of Hank’s endlessly fertile and playful imagination, Unfortunately, or fortunately, I was then the last line of defense against spoofs, and for at least one year (and probably more), Helmut’s existence was verified by “the bible of the sport.” Cue laughter.