A nice, easy ride through skiing history | AspenTimes.com

A nice, easy ride through skiing history

Bob Ward
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“The Story of Modern Skiing” is an enjoyable read for anyone who loves to ski or enjoys the culture and history of skiing.In the first section, author John Fry quotes German ski teacher and promoter Otto Schniebs, who told a New York newspaper in 1948 that, “Skiing is not a schport. It is a vay of life.”It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say Schniebs’ observation is a central theme of Fry’s book. “The Story of Modern Skiing” isn’t just about ski resorts, racing, fashion, gear or culture. It’s about all of these things, and how a sport evolved into a big business and rich subculture.

Fry, a former editor in chief of SKI magazine, has lived the lifestyle and participated in many of the trends and events covered in the book, from the creation of the FIS World Cup racing circuit to the more recent “arms race” between ski resorts to upgrade their facilities and defend their share of a slow-growing market of skiers and snowboarders. Fry clearly loves his sport and knows how to turn a phrase as well.”Skiing is a graceful fusion of gravitational and muscular force, modulated by twisting, flexing, balancing on one foot or two. The action is magical, full of freedom and inventiveness … The free access to the power of gravity is why the sport ranks with sailing, soaring and surfing in deeply satisfying man’s need for play in nature.”Though its 359 pages (including the glossary of skiing terms), Fry’s history reads easily, a comfortable stroll through the decades, it’s doubtful that a European reader would find this book comprehensive or authoritative – Aspen and Vail get far more ink than famed European skiing locales like Kitzbuhel, Chamonix or Zermatt – but the book offers a lively ride through the years after World War II, when skiing became a worldwide competitive sport and recreational pursuit.The book is divided into five major sections, each one dealing with an important aspect of the skiing experience: People and Places, Technique and Equipment, Alpine Competition, New Disciplines (cross-country, freestyle, snowboarding), and the Culture and Business of Skiing. This organizational approach can be awkward: How can you separate the evolution of alpine racing from the technical advances in skis and boots?

However, Fry is such an engaging storyteller and tour guide that I kept picking up the book from my bedside table. He also uses obscure stories and anecdotes to strong effect, such as the following in a section about the boy-meets-girl appeal of the two-person chairlift.”The notoriously short Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who skied at Belleayre in New York’s Catskill Mountains, was waiting in the lift line one day while the attendant sought a suitable rider to go up with her. Eventually a shortish man showed up and they rode up together. He later became Dr. Ruth’s husband.”This book is not an encyclopedic document, but it doesn’t seek to be. It is fun and informative reading for anyone who loves the sport.

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