John Fry - NASTAR founder, ISHA chair, lifelong ski journalist

Passing Date

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.