How NASTAR Was Conceived by John Fry Series 1
02.06.2018 | John Fry
The environment for people learning to ski has varied little over the years. Ungainly tip-crossing neophytes are herded into classes of eight to a dozen students. After a day, or perhaps five days, they emerge skilled enough to achieve what they want: to descend the mountain on pleasant trails, while enjoying the scenery and the company of friends.
Most recreational skiers are like golfers who play a round without keeping score, or tennis players happily lobbing the ball back and forth across the net.
Beginning as editor-in-chief of SKI Magazine in the spring of 1964, I worked across the hall from the editorial office of GOLF Magazine, whose editorial director I would become five years later. GOLF’S editors relied heavily on supplying readers with tips to lower their handicaps. Golfers could relate their scores to a PGA player’s sub-par round, or their putting to Arnold Palmer’s challenge of sinking a 10-footer. How great it would be, I thought, if I could ratchet up SKI’s newsstand sales using the same appeal! How great it would be if it were to become a goal of ski instruction!
At the time, however, it wasn’t an idea especially appealing to the Professional Ski Instructors of America. PSIA’s Official American Ski Technique (later renamed American Teaching Method or ATM) didn’t much resemble what good skiers were doing. They were making stepped turns, using split rotation, and carving on fiberglass skis. Many beginners were learning on short skis with the new Graduated Length Method (GLM). Progressive instructors were looking ahead, the American Ski Technique backwards to its Austrian genes.
Even the name “American” looked outdated. Nationalistic differences in technique were rapidly dying. I set up a cover photo, in which three skiers – Austrian gold medalist Pepi Stiegler, French pro champion Adrien Duvillard, and Canada’s Ernie McCulloch – were seen together in a slalom flush. All three made roughly the same turn. It didn’t look much like the final form of PSIA’s American Ski Technique.
My thinking was heavily influenced too when in 1967 I arranged for Georges Joubert’s and Jean Vuarnet’s bestselling Comment Se Perfectionner a Ski to be published in English as How to Ski the New French Way. The principal way for skiers to advance their technique, the authors believed, was to mimic the actions of champion racers.
SKI’s Racing Editor Tom Corcoran wrote a column condemning the gulf between racing and what recreational skiers were being taught. He lauded an innovation at Sun Valley. The resort had cordoned off a special slope, not too steep, dedicated to timing recreational skiers as they made runs through easy open gates. It was the equivalent in golf of a Par-3 course. Mont Tremblant Ski School director Ernie McCulloch also made pupils learn how to turn through gates.
Resorts like Sun Valley and Tremblant staged standard races for guests. Entrants who ran the course within a set time limit received a shoulder patch, and possibly a gold, silver or a bronze pin. The prestigious standard races were not necessarily easy – they could be long and challenging. You could compare yourself to others who’d been in the race, but not directly to someone who wasn’t in it. Your rating was only good for the day of the competition. By contrast, a consistent 10-handicap golfer knows that on any day, on any course, he’s likely to play 10 strokes better than a 20-handicapper.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
50th Birthday Party
Nastar participants will join with the International Skiing History Association to celebrate Nastar's 50th anniversary at ISHA's annual awards event, March 23, 2018 in Squaw Valley's Olympic Village Dining Hall. To purchase a ticket, visit www.skiinghistory.org, and click on Events and Awards.