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In Memoriam: John Fry

Remembering skiing’s great late historian.

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We all have our childhood heroes and idols. I wasn’t your normal middle school girl back in the early ’70s. While my friends were saving up for Tiger Beat and hoping for a life-sized David Cassidy pullout poster, I was poring over the latest issue of SKI Magazine, looking for stories written by my idol, John Fry.

John’s love not just of the sport itself but the world it thrives in resonated with me from the day I first read his words. I was sitting in Hoigaard’s Ski Shop in Minnesota—waiting for who knows what I needed for that season—and a copy of SKI was sitting on a table. I sat down, flipped it open, and was transported. 

So affirming was the moment, I can still remember the color of the couch (chartreuse—those were the groovy years).

I did not understand then that John was already impacting my ski life—and all our ski lives—in a positive way. My mom had picked up skiing as an adult (to ski with her kids) and used the Graduated Length Method, a teaching technique endorsed by John Fry, to learn. I was an early NASTAR adopter (John founded NASTAR), eventually scoring a coveted national championship spot before turning my focus to freestyle skiing.

On career day, when all the other kids came dressed as veterinarians, doctors, or firefighters, I came in my goggles and ski pants, grasping my well-read most-recent copy of SKI. “I’m going to be a writer for SKI Magazine,” I announced. Miss Shickert suggested I find a more realistic goal. “John Fry will hire me,” I thought, in the brazen confidence of a child. I was half right. John did hire me—not for SKI, but for Snow Country magazine, the amazing, ahead-of-its-time lifestyle magazine about not just skiing but ski culture.

It’s no surprise that the New York Times chose John to create their ski publication. By then his credentials were beyond impeccable. Post-war steel and metal industry coverage across Europe had made him a hard-hitting reporter. His time at SKI yielded exponential growth for the magazine. He helped launch programs that pumped new skiers into the sport. He kept a keen eye on environmental issues and the ski industry well before the general public even knew the words “climate change.” But most of all, he became one of the foremost ambassadors of our sport. We skiers and writers looked to John for cues. The New York Times did the same.

Working at Snow Country was a revelation. John insisted on excellence as well as teamwork. There, for five delightful years, I proved Miss Shickert wrong as I had the incredible chance to learn from the best. I would imagine that writing for John might be like taking batting lessons from The Babe. He’s that good.

John was a master gardener, a lover of art, a braggart when it came to his children, and a man who absolutely loved everything there is about ski culture and mountain life. My kind of guy, and truly, everyone’s kind of guy.

And I wasn’t the only one whose career was molded at the hands of John Fry. Lisa Ballard got her start under his wing, as did many other lucky ski journalists.

Around 1996, I worked on a big feature for Snow Country, one that John took the helm on editing. That being the heyday of print media, I was able to spend an entire ski season on that one story. I’d head somewhere, report, come back with notes and write, repeating time after time until I got the story down.

My first draft was rambling, and I knew it. I feared sending it to the great and powerful John. But that fear only came from forgetfulness: I forgot that John loves the process, loves the sport, and loves the chance to share its important stories. My first try came back with a note from him: “Just keep writing! This is great stuff! Let it flow and then we will tamp things up.” And so I did. Five, maybe six rewrites with colorful edit marks squeezed in the margins led to a final draft. I saved those manuscripts to this day because they are special to me. They represent how John helped me jump to the next level in writing.

At a meeting just before that issue of Snow Country came out, the team was sitting around the conference room table at Snow Country headquarters when John brought up that story and said it was “the best ski racing story I’ve read in 25 years.” My heart soared, and being a loud New England gal, I could not keep it in. After all, my idol had just declared a love of my words. “John Fry!” I declared. “I feel like you’re Elvis and I’m a teenager and you just invited me to the Jungle Room!”

John scowled and barked “Moira? I have no idea what you’re talking about!” and moved on to the next discussion item. But I swear I saw the joy in his eyes. That’s John: not one to jump up and hug you, but generous with his praise and pride in all his people.

Snow Country closed in early 2000, but I think that’s because John was ahead of his time. He knew that all this wasn’t just about skiing. He understood that every resort had an obligation to protect the earth. He felt the connection and love every mountain sport person knows, and he shared it, used it to better things, and yes, acted on it. He was the first journalist inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame. As it should be.

I spoke to John about two weeks before he passed away. We reminisced and yes, laughed a lot. After our call, he emailed me and said thank you, for the memories and the talk. The curmudgeon with heart.

On January 24, 2020, the day John died, I was in Canada skiing with the legendary Nancy Greene and Al Rain. Not knowing John was living his final day, we spoke of him on chair rides and at après, sharing stories and our admiration. The following morning, Nancy messaged me. “Did you hear?” Yes, I had.

John lived the reporter, journalist, and skier life I dreamed of as a child. But more than that, he built our industry up in ways that cannot ever be fully understood—growing smart and dedicated journalists who understand the mountain world; pushing for programs and projects that matter; always reminding us about the environment; and perhaps most importantly, preserving our history.