NASTAR founder, ISHA chair, lifelong ski journalist

Passing Date: 
Friday, January 24, 2020

John Fry, the dean of North American ski journalists, died suddenly but peacefully on January 24, two days after celebrating his 90th birthday

Fry was in apparent good health. According to the local medical examiner, he suffered a heart attack while floating quietly in shallow water off a beach on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.

Over a 60-year career devoted to ski journalism, Fry served on the staffs of the magazines SKI LIFE, SKI, Snow Country and Skiing Heritage (now Skiing History). He was editor-in-chief of SKI, founding editor of Snow Country, and served as president and then chairman of the International Skiing History Association.

“John’s love of skiing, combined with his talent for in-depth reporting and crystal writing style, set the standard for ski journalism not only in English but world-wide,” said Seth Masia, who went to work for Fry in 1974 and is today president of the International Skiing History Association. “Those of us who had the good fortune to work for him loved his wit, warmth and mentorship. He was the heart and soul of each magazine he edited and was more productive and inspiring than ever during his final years with us.”

Kathleen James, editor of Skiing History, had this to say: “In 1994, John Fry gave me my first big-time magazine job as an associate editor at Snow Country. Over the years, working for him there and later at Skiing History, he taught me how to hold every issue of every magazine to the very highest standards: to examine story ideas with a critical eye, ask authors the right questions, and artfully present the finished article on the page. At the age of 90, his comments on stories, his suggestions, and his headlines — succinct, funny, compelling — were always the very best. He was my mentor, my friend and a second father who always pushed me to be better. To my occasional frustration and eternal gratitude, he was (almost) always right.”

Fry edited America’s Ski Book, revised edition (1973), co-authored with Phil and Steve Mahre their autobiography No Hill Too Fast (1985), and authored the award-winning book The Story of Modern Skiing (2006) and a work of Canadian history, A Mind at Sea: Henry Fry and the glorious era of Quebec-built giant sailing ships (2016).

In addition to his writing, as editor-in-chief at SKI Fry created the Nations Cup of alpine skiing, ranking the worlds’ national ski teams based on World Cup points; and NASTAR (National Standard Racing), the nationwide recreational alpine racing series now owned and operated by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

Born January 22, 1930 in Montreal, Canada, Fry first donned skis at age six. After a few years he was able to ride the world’s first rope tow, which had been built at Shawbridge, Quebec in 1932.  For high school, he attended Lower Canada College (class of 1947), and was a member of its championship ski team. At McGill University he raced for the Red Birds Ski Club and earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1951.

Fry emigrated to New York City in 1957 to join the daily trade paper American Metal Market, where, in 1960, he was named managing editor. Meanwhile, he freelanced as contributing editor of Ski Life, a national magazine launched in 1959, soon to be merged with SKI Magazine. In 1963 he joined the staff of SKI as executive editor, and editor of its sister publication Ski Business. In 1964 he was named editor-in-chief of SKI, and in 1969 became editorial director of SKI and Golf Magazines. After the Times Mirror Company acquired the titles in 1972, he served as editorial director of Outdoor Life, SKI and GOLF, with circulations ranging from 350,000 to 1.8 million. During this period, he created two new publications: Action Vacations and Cross-Country Ski. In 1965 he married Marlies Strillinger.

In the summer of 1987, the New York Times Co. retained Fry to create a new magazine, Snow Country. When the magazine debuted in January 1988, he became the full-time editor-in-chief. Snow Country attained a circulation of 450,000.

In 1996, the New York Times Sports/Leisure Group appointed Fry as editor of new magazine development. In this role he launched Golf Course Living Magazine. He retired from the New York Times Co. in 1999 and returned to SKI as a contributing editor. He remained an active contributor at Skiing History magazine until his death. 

Fry was elected to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame (1995), to the Laurentian Ski Hall of Fame (2016), and to the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame (2018). A founding member of the International Skiing History Association, he first served as its president in 2001, and from 2014 until his death was the association’s chairman. He also served as a director at the environmental organizations Riverkeeper (1992-2000), Pinchot Institute for Conservation (1994-1999), and Beaver Dam Sanctuary (1995 until his death). In 1997 he was honored by the International Ski Federation (FIS) with its Journalism Award.

Fry is survived by his wife of 55 years, Marlies; their daughter Nicole Fry; his children by Ann Lyons, the sculptor Leslie Fry and William Fry; and grandchildren Sarah and Emily Fry.  --Seth Masia

A memorial service will be held February 29, at the Katonah Presbyterian Church, 31 Bedford Rd., Katonah N.Y. at 12 noon.

Contributions in John's memory may be sent to the John Fry Memorial Fund/ISHA, PO Box 1064, Manchester Center VT 05255. Make checks payable to the International Skiing History Association with the memo John Fry Fund.

See a video tribute to John Fry.

See the full 2006 video interview with John Fry.


Submitted by Euan Swan (not verified) on

My thoughts are with the Fry family at this time. I grew up in Montreal reading my father's SKI magazines from cover to cover! Thank you John for your great contribution to skiing!

Submitted by Rick Moulton (not verified) on

I met John Fry around 1980 while making the film "Legends of American Skiing:" He was interested, knowledgable, supportive and helped the film by showcasing it at Ski Busness Week. We shared a passion for skiings storied past and he often tapped me to help him convey the history, the heritage of our sport. For the last twenty years I have served on this board of the International Ski History Association. John was a visionary who brought his pubishing expertise to Skiing History Magazine and made it the outstanding publication that it is today. John will live on in its pages, as we share his love for this heritage that is delivered  in this eloguent publication. But I will miss him, his infectious chuckle, his insightful advice and making a run together on a sparkling day...


Submitted by Barbara Nelson (not verified) on

This is a shock - He contributed very much to the skiing industry - and all other things he touched.  He will be missed.

Submitted by Ivo Krupka (not verified) on

Even though John was about to enter his 10th decade when he died, it came as shock and left me profoundly sad. I don't know how to even begin summarizing his vast contributions to skiing and its heritage around the world, but I do know that he made great contributions to the legacy of skiing in Canada. A decade and half ago, when I was Chair of the Canadian Ski Museum, he approached me to see how we could generate articles for publication about Canada's skiing heritage. Through many long telephone conversations, he not only provided endless ideas about topics and issues -- and potential authors -- but he also found an important source of funds to generate and edit the stories. The resulting Canadian Ski Writers History Project became the Museum's single most important program. The last time we were together was at his table during his induction into the Laurentian Ski Museum's Hall of Fame in 2016 – another recognition of his contribution to Canada’s skiing heritage. Like so many people around the world who knew John, I will greatly miss his friendship, wise counsel, and brilliant writing. A tremendous loss to the world of skiing. My thoughts are with his family, colleagues, and friends at this sad time.

Submitted by Bob Soden (not verified) on

I first met John Fry at the International Ski History Congress in Park City in 2002. He was accompanied by Morten Lund when attending the delivery of my paper on Walter Foeger, and closely questioned me on my description of Emile Allais' technique.

A number of years later, after writing a few articles for Skiing Heritage / History magazine, John suggested I take on another piece to be entitled: Montreal - North America's Ski City. It required a lot of research and work, but John had a way of willing you to want to do it - and do it well.

I still owe him a couple of pieces that he suggested: Kurelek - (Tormented) Canadian Ski Artist, and Alex Foster - Quebec Rope Tow Original - and many, many more.

John was all about skiing, and telling the international ski story - but he also never forgot his Canadian roots - and wanted to record and promote its, perhaps, neglected stories.

Thank you, John, for your inspiration, your example - and your confidence. Happy trails. Bob

Submitted by Chris Edgell (not verified) on

As a fellow redbird of john fry and as past chair of the cdn ski hall of fame and museum , i have always appreciated his candpr and hi sincerity in all the things he was involved in. We are shattered to hear of his passing and we will always hold john in high esteem as an example of helping his fellow man.

Sincerely chris edgell  montreal Quebec Canada

Submitted by Kathleen James (not verified) on

In 1994, John gave me my first big-time magazine job as an associate editor at Snow Country. Over the years, working for him there and later at Skiing History, he taught me how to hold every issue of every magazine to the highest standards: to examine story ideas with a critical eye, ask authors the right questions, and artfully present the finished article on the page. Until the very day he died, his comments on stories, his insights, and his headlines — succinct, funny, compelling — were always the best.

John always pushed me to be better. To my occasional frustration and eternal gratitude, he was (almost) always right.

Cheers, John! I will miss talking to you on the phone, long conversations with you at our house and in Katonah, and receiving your many, many emails directing me on my next "urgent" task.

Submitted by Seth Masia (not verified) on

My mentor, John hired me at SKI Magazine in the spring of 1974, and I began work after the Independence Day weekend. He didn't like to micro-manage -- in my case he threw projects at me and watched. If you could meet deadlines with accurate copy without his intervention, more projects came thick and fast. Within a year, in addition to reporting for SKI, I was editing SKI Business, including its huge trade show issue, and production-editing XC Ski. John rarely praised, but after each Christmas party there was a thank-you note on the Selectric with notification of a nice raise. I can't say he loosened the reins as time went on, because they were pretty loose to begin with, but I pretty much got to create my own assignments, so I took on travel writing, race reporting, personality profiles. I skied a ton. It was the best job imaginable. When John was promoted to editorial director and became responsible for Golf and Outdoor life, we saw less of him. He was the best boss I ever had. Some time later, after he'd left Times Mirror, he offered me a job at Snow Country. By this time I was living in Truckee and skiing daily at Squaw, which was pretty good fixins', and I didn't really understand what Snow Country was supposed to be, or how successful it would become -- so I stupidly declined the offer. Decades later he asked me to join Skiing History, and I was delighted to work with him again. After 45 years, I only wish we could work together forever. 

John wasn't a sportswriter, precisely, though his reporting on the Olympics was unsurpassed. And while he bought into the idea that a ski magazine should promote participation in the sport, he was a crusader for the integrity of the sport (he always insisted that skiing is a sport, not an industry). When he saw chaos or self-dealing in the management of the ski team, he called it out. He wrote skeptically and incisively about the rapid overgrowth of ski resorts, their environmental impact and political repercussions. These campaigns took courage -- they were unpopular in influential quarters. The same skepticism -- the eagerness to look past hype and myth to uncover hard facts -- served him well as an historian. And made him a great role model. I miss him terribly, already.

Submitted by Barbara Thaler ... (not verified) on

I got to know John, a great ski historian, through various projects. The first was our chronicle, ”Hahnenkamm – Chronicel of a Myth“ volume 1, and later volume 2.

At some point, he became interested in the history of Kitzbühel Ski Club especially our ski pioneer, Karl Koller. We sent him lots of pictures and a long account, which was created from the many interviews held with Karl Koller. After a few weeks, I received lots of questions back. That was John Fry, he was a meticulous researcher and left nothing to chance. He was very precise and did not just reproduce articles written by others. Correctness and accuracy is what distinguished John.

Our thoughts and deepest sympathy go out to his family, the ISHA family and his friends. We will always honour and cherish John’s memory.

Your, Kitzbüheler Ski Club (KSC), organizer Hahnenkamm Race

Submitted by JF Lanvers (not verified) on

Passion is what fuels skiing and John’s tank was overflowing with it.

That passion kept him re-inventing himself and remaining a true ski activist.

We’ll all miss him and I’ll make many good turns on his behalf these next days...

Submitted by Manfred Trümper (not verified) on

I met John and Marlies in the early 1980s when I visited N.Y. John picked me up at my hotel and took me to their home. This was the first and only time I have met him and I was struck at once by his kindness. I had known Marlies since 1963/4 when I met her on a ski slope in New York State. Now my thoughts are with her and her family. 


Submitted by Jimmy Schaeffler (not verified) on


To John Fry: That Bespoke Man

Rarely in life, one meets another who exhibits obvious and copious specialness. Rarer, we meet that person who shows that uniqueness after mere minutes, no less hours, days or, if we are as lucky as it is rare, longer.

John Fry was that bespoke man.

Some shine because of a light in the eye. Some show because of a display, something in their personality that sparkles. Some stand out because of the words they chose. Or the stories they have to tell. Or the way they tell them. 

But most of all, people make us think of them because they care. They really care.

John Fry was one of those special ones, and everyone I knew that knew him knew that, too.

The story that John Fry first told me was the best reason of all to care: his family.

We met at a tiny hotel in a remote part of the southern most part of South America. He was with his wife, Marlies, who was kind enough to endulge my desire to practice my challenged German, and who told me of their beloved daughter, then a teenager, I recall.

John later told me during a hike about how much better a father he was becoming, later in life. 

And they both told me of their love for my father. 

They both were special, because they cared.

Another person who takes caring to that next level is John and Marlies’ old friend, John Russell.

I was with John Russell in early 2020.

The name John Fry came up, and John Russell used that as an excuse to both test and leverage an excuse to call John and Marlies, and just say “hey.”

For the next twenty minutes, we talked in combinations, we told those stories, we reminded one another about how we cared.

A month later, John Fry had passed. His soul still cared, but his heart just couldn’t any more. 

And now I know my life was made a little better because of the magic and caring of one J. Fry.

I can see him musing that over on a special, magically-colored cloud, beside the best beach and golf course Heaven can offer.

And sharing that with my dad.

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