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Legacy: The Home of the Gods

 

 

SKIING HISTORY

Editor Kathleen James
Art Director Edna Baker
Contributing Editor Greg Ditrinco
ISHA Website Editor Seth Masia

Editorial Board
Seth Masia, John Allen, Andy Bigford, John Caldwell, Jeremy Davis, Kirby Gilbert, Paul Hooge, Jeff Leich, Bob Soden, Ingrid Wicken

Founding Editors 
Morten Lund, Glenn Parkinson

To preserve skiing history and to increase awareness of the sport’s heritage

ISHA Founder 
Mason Beekley, 1927–2001

ISHA Board of Directors
Seth Masia, President
Wini Jones, Vice President
Jeff Blumenfeld, Vice President
John McMurtry, Vice President
Chan Morgan, Treasurer
Einar Sunde, Secretary

Richard Allen, Skip Beitzel, Michael Calderone, Christin Cooper, Art Currier, Dick Cutler, Chris Diamond, Mike Hundert, David Ingemie, Rick Moulton, Wilbur Rice, Charles Sanders, Bob Soden (Canada), Betty Tung

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Christin Cooper, Billy Kidd, Jean-Claude Killy, Bode Miller, Doug Pfeiffer, Penny Pitou, Nancy Greene Raine

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Bimonthly journal and official publication of the International Skiing History Association (ISHA)

Partners: U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame | Canadian Ski Museum and Hall of Fame

Alf Engen Ski Museum | North American Snowsports Journalists Association | Swiss Academic Ski Club

 

Skiing History (USPS No. 16-201, ISSN: 23293659) is published bimonthly by the International Skiing History Association, P.O. Box 1064, Manchester Center, VT 05255.
Periodicals postage paid at Manchester Center, VT and at additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to ISHA, P.O. Box 1064, Manchester Center, VT 05255

 

 

 

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Written permission from the editor is required to reproduce, in any manner, the contents of Skiing History, either in full or in part.

Legacy: The Home of the Gods

By John Fry

Go to the high places to gain vision and restore your soul. 

Author John Fry describes Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia as a place where the “sky and the world merged ... [and] the cluttered house of my consciousness was swept clean.”


Fry at home in Katonah, New York in 2015. This photo was taken by his friend, photographer and cinematographer Paul Ryan.

Brochures luring us to the mountains in summer often portray Sybarites soaking themselves in a hotel hot tub at 7,000 feet, maybe after a lung-stretching day of playing tennis or fat-tire biking. Others may be on a golf course or in an outdoor tent at a music concert. Such are the undeniable and not unworthy satisfactions of visiting in summer the places we ski in winter. But here’s a radical thought that I dare to mention at the risk of announcing the least-fashionable idea of the year: Go to the mountains to improve your soul. Millions of people do so throughout the world.

There is much comfort in high hills,     
And a great easing of the heart.
We look upon them, and our nature fills
With loftier images from their life apart.
They set our feet on curves of freedom bent
To snap the circles of our discontent.

So begins a fine, early British book on climbing, extolling the tranquility of mind experienced in high places. Still in my own memory is an astonishingly beautiful hike above treeline, through fields of alpine wildflowers, that I once made from Sunshine to Assiniboine in the Canadian Rockies. As I merged myself into a place where the sky and the world themselves merged, the cluttered house of my consciousness was swept clean.

Going to high places to gain vision and restore the mind is a neglected tradition in America. It wasn’t always so. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, overcivilized people are beginning to find that going to the mountains is going home … and that mountain parks and preservations are fountains of life,” wrote conservation pioneer John Muir in 1898.

Edwin Bernbaum, the author of Sacred Mountains of the World, calculates that a billion of the world’s people revere the mountains, some cultures regarding them as the home of the gods. “Despite the hardship and suffering, even the fear encountered in the mountains, people return to them again and again,” Bernbaum declares, “seeking something they cannot put into words.”

Trekking in a region near Lhotse, reputed to be Shangri-La, Bernbaum tells how he “descended into the mist to the valley floor and camped in a meadow … We heard the clear voices of birds singing to one another. In the woods around us, drops of bluish water gleamed like diamonds on necklaces of hanging moss … [and] we felt the presence of a majestic snow peak that seemed to rule over the valley … When we came to a spring welling out of the base of a mossy rock, I knelt to drink the water out of my hands, and felt the peace and beauty flow into my body.”

Extracting moral grace from nature—a sensitivity heightened in the mountains—was a notion advanced by one of America’s early nature writers, John Burroughs. “In nature…you are touching the hem of the garment with which the infinite is clothed, and virtue goes out from it to you.”

Unhappily, too few Americans seem ready to receive such virtue. [The late] Andrea Mead Lawrence, America’s first double gold medalist in Olympic skiing and now a supervisor of Mono County in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada, believes our lack of spiritual identification with the mountains is at the root of our acceptance of so much unsightly suburban development there, and it makes her weep. “God did not make the Sierra Nevada as a lot-and-block subdivision, and we shouldn’t treat our mountain valleys that way,” she says. “For those who have spent our lives in the mountains, they are the wellspring of our passion and our caring.”

In his 1890 book on New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Julius Ward—who never found a word in the dictionary he didn’t like—wrote of the “unconscious exhilaration” he felt as the “mountains entered his soul and raised his life to their level.” Returning from a climb of one of the Presidential peaks, Ward compared his experience to that of Moses, “purged of the false, the untrue and the unreal.”

A contemporary parable may be found in Lost Kingdom of the Himalaya, where narrator John Clark accompanies a Hunza villager into the high country. “Together we crept out on the rim of a great mountain buttress, like flies on the shoulder of God. We rounded a curve, and there suddenly was the valley below us and the great rocks above. The villager sat down. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked. ‘Looking at my mountains,’ he murmured. He showed me then the meaning of worship…that our bustling minds must relearn.” 

ISHA president John Fry died peacefully on January 24, 2020, while floating in the warm waters off Vieques Island, two days after his 90th birthday. His obituary appears on page 33. John was a beloved member of the ISHA family and the global ski community, and we’ll honor his legacy as a ski writer and editor by reprinting some of his finest and most unique articles in upcoming issues of Skiing History. This essay was published in the Spring 1997 issue of Snow Country, with a nod from Fry to quotations from the book Around the Roof of the World by his friend Nicholas Shoumatoff.

 

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