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The Envelope Please…


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All of those end-of-the-year, end-of-the-century, end-of-the-millennium ski awards are still nagging me, like the Y2K problems that never happened. Here’s the rub. The awards neglected to nominate things whose absence would have been a boon to the sport. To set matters straight, I’m proposing the Fry Reprehensible Yearly Failure Awards be published annually until the culprits have been fixed or abolished. Inaugural winners of the FRYFAs include:

Television’s “live” coverage of ski races whose results appeared in the newspaper a week ago.

Fake wood-burning fireplaces in rustic lodges. Gimme a real, smell-good smoky fire, not a pathetically flickering flame of propane gas. Besides, if they could cut all those logs to build the lodge, can’t they spare a few to burn?

Base-lodge architects who think it’s important to locate the restroom facilities in the basement, next to the septic system, causing us to resemble arthritic cripples as we descend stairways in our clunky boots.

Masochistic engineers who require vacationers, bearing skis and poles, to climb three flights of stairs to reach a cable car jammed with 195 people, all of whom ate garlic scampi at Luigi’s last night.

On-mountain restaurants where there’s no place to put your gloves, goggles and woolen hat except on a tabletop coated with previous diners’ ketchup.

Private $25,000-a-year membership clubs on ski mountains in the middle of national forests. Ski clubs used to be defined by their love of the sport, not by the wealth of their members.

Liftline waiting areas that are built on sidehills, or 100 vertical feet uphill from the base lodge.

Harsh rock music blaring from a loudspeaker nailed to a pine tree halfway up a ski mountain. In addition to the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, maybe our public lands need a federal noise pollution statute that bans loud music offensive to squirrels and to folks who like their outdoors straight.

Resorts whose groomers pack down 4 inches of fresh powder in the early morning before it can be skied.

Ski racks that can’t be mounted on your car top without the telephoned assistance of a mechanical draftsman in the engineering department at MIT.

Ski towns which proudly advertise that you don’t need a car, but where public transportation to your lodge and the center of town is a bus that runs every 45 minutes.

Resort brochures, which you need to arrange your upcoming winter vacation, that take six weeks to arrive.

Precious alpine land waste: $3 million, 15,000-square-foot homes in once pristine mountain meadows, occupied by their owners for two weeks per year.

The genius who keeps coming up with the idea that participation would grow if only learning to ski could be made easier. So how come the sport grew faster when there were no groomed slopes, shaped skis, snowmaking or easy-to-board high-speed lifts?

On-hill technique lectures by earnest instructors reciting the words they learned in order to be able to pass their professional certification exam. Reality: You don’t need to stand in the freezing cold for 30 minutes to absorb the Professional Ski Instructors of America theory of center-line teaching. It may have helped your instructor earn his pro’s badge, but it won’t help you ski better.

Cross-country skis with no-need-to-wax-’em patterned bases that don’t glide, although they’re supposed to help you climb. Truth is, waxing¿no rocket science¿isn’t that difficult to master.

Ski area access roads lined with Burger Kings, Taco Bells and Wal-Marts, just like the ‘burbs back home. You thought you were coming to the mountains for a change of scenery?

Treeless ski-area parking lots that look like abandoned gravel pits.

Ski pants that bundle at your boot-top like a decaying mushroom. How about a special Failure Award to over-the-boot pants that can only be adjjusted for length by George Hamilton’s $200-an-hour tailor, or only fit over your boot if you leave the snaps or zipper open?

The third-story, around-the-back-of-the-second-building-on-the-right, $300-a-night condo that you can’t find at 1 am on a freezing night¿after eight hours of flying and driving from Peoria¿because you’re unable to read the map that was sent by the property manager. . .and the resort can’t spare anyone to lead you to the place.

Advertisements promoting easy-to-turn skis worn by a guy who’s 90 feet up in the air performing a heel-touch royal christie that you can’t do, never will do and that frightens the b’jesus out of you, anyway. If his skis are so easy to turn on the snow, why does the ad show him changing direction in mid-air?

The new gateway to the Rockies, the Denver International Airport, which was located 20 minutes farther away from ski resorts than the old airport¿but with no provision for train service or public transport. And this under the watch of a Coloradan who became national Secretary of Transportation! Contrast “modern” Denver with the Zurich or Geneva airports, where you can board a train to any ski resort in Switzerland.

Ski manufacturers who insist on publishing their suggested prices for gear, knowing that Tiffany’s may be the only store that actually charges consumers such inflated prices. No wonder ski gear is usually marked down from the manufacturer’s suggested retail price the moment the stuff enters the store.

Candy bar advertising on lift towers. Can’t ski hills be declared commercial-free zones?

Ski reports which neglect to mention that those 3 inches of powder happen to have fallen on 6 inches of old ice.

The muddled scorekeeping of the International Ski Federation (FIS), which awards zero seeding points to the skier who has a thousand World Cup points, which in turn can’t be compared to past results because the FIS has changed its point formula so often.

The weatherman who conceived the idea of wind-chill factor, a specious measurement that has discouraged millions of people from venturing into the outdoors in winter to enjoy the great sports of downhill skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing.

Finally, to demonstrate that I’m not an ungrateful curmudgeon, I should mention innovations that have superbly enhanced the sport:

Daily grooming of slopes.

Gore-Tex and polypropylene that keep you warm by wicking away moisture from the skin.

Chairlifts that carry you up the mountain in half the time and are easy to get on and off.

More terrain per skier than has ever existed.

And a sport that uniquely enables parents and children to vacation together, and supplies us with our best friends.

John Fry shares his curmudgeonly view of the world in every issue of SKI.