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Rapid evolution of skiing

Edward StonerVail, CO Colorado
NWS John Fry DT 1-30-07
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VAIL – When John Fry became editor of SKI magazine in 1964, skiing was booming. He felt like the editor of an “entertainment guide for miners” during a gold rush, he said.During his tenure as editor, skiing continued to change rapidly. As baby boomers reached adulthood, skier numbers spiked. People switched from leather boots to plastic boots, and from metal skis to fiberglass skis. The World Cup was created, and so were stars like Jean-Claude Killy.Fry had gotten to know some of the most influential figures in skiing, including Vail founder Pete Seibert, ski innovator and Vail resident Howard Head, and World Cup founder Serge Lang. Fry also created Nastar racing and the Nations Cup.By the time Fry retired, he had experienced firsthand some of the most significant changes in skiing, and he felt like he had to put it down on paper. “It would be almost criminal to walk away from it,” he said.He wanted to write a memoir, but his publisher wanted more of an academic history book. The result was “The Story of Modern Skiing,” which focuses on skiing in America from 1950 to 1972.”More happened in that period than the previous 6,000 years,” said Fry, who is in Vail for Skiing Heritage Week. He will signing copies of his book at the Sonnenalp at 6 p.m. today.

Fry, who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., grew up skiing in the Laurentian Mountains near Montreal, a place of innovation for skiing. The first rope tow, alpine ski school and ski train were established there in the early part of the 20th century.But skiing really began to grow and evolve in the 1950s. Technology made great strides – Head introduced a ski with aluminum-alloy sandwich construction. Bob Lange created the first plastic boot. Release bindings were introduced. Ed Scott introduced light-weight ski poles. Snow grooming was invented, and so was snowmaking.Lots of wealthy people – including Walter Paepcke in Aspen, Laurance Rockefeller at Squaw Valley and Dick Bass at Snowbird – invested lots of money in young resorts.”It was just kind of a bauble to have,” Fry said.Vail was able to grow beyond its competitors, largely due to the access that was created by Interstate 70.Then freestylers started doing wild new things on skis: jumping, twisting and bashing moguls without any regard for technique. Snowboarding then introduced a whole new element to the sport.Fry said he’s optimistic about the future, whatever the next innovation will be.”It’s not some marketing genius that will come up with it,” he said. “It’s a bunch of kids hanging around somewhere.”

Citing sociologist Thorstein Veblen, Fry said skiing is perhaps an example of “conspicuous consumption” – a “costly, conspicuous act of no social usefulness.”Still, it’s caused people to abandon conventional lives for the chance to ski every day, Fry said.

“It’s a rush,” he said. “There’s just nothing like it.Few other sports can allow kids, parents and grandparents to participate together – and skiing has a really unique setting, he said.”A tennis court is a tennis court,” he said. “An 18-hole golf course is maybe 100 acres. Skiing is a vast amount of terrain you can explore with freedom.”And knowing about the history of a sport will enrich your involvement in it, he said.”Or settle arguments at cocktail parties,” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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