Second Look: Friends Season 3 Episode 17 – “The One Without the Ski Trip”

Friends The One Without the Ski Trip

Friends Season 3, Episode 17 “The One Without the Ski Trip”
Written by Shana Goldberg-Meehan & Scott Silveri
Directed by Sam Simon
Aired March 6, 1997 on NBC

Is there an episode of Friends more inconveniently positioned than “The One Without the Ski Trip?” Not only does it face the monumental task of somehow resolving “The One With the Morning After” and restore some semblance of status quo within the group; it also follows the equally depressing arcs of Chandler’s breakup and Joey’s career failures, Monica’s sad reunion with Richard, and Phoebe’s brushes with capitalism and former partners of season three’s second act. Understandably, “The One Without the Ski Trip” leans heavy on the laughs to try and find its way back to normalcy, as Chandler regresses into his smoking, preteen self and Carol finds herself inconvenienced by Sad Ross – and for the most part, does a solid job of letting the dust settle from the season’s numerous pessimistic plots.

Make no mistake, though, “The One Without the Ski Trip” is still very much about the Ross and Rachel breakup; set a week later, “Ski Trip” opens with the rest of the group trying to navigate a now-complex social schedule. And when everyone agrees to go on the titular adventure into the mountains, Ross is left (rightfully) to stew alone in the chasm formed from their breakup. As premises go, it’s rather simple, and noticeably leaves Rachel and Ross’s fighting to exposition in the first two-thirds; there’s been enough ugliness the past four or five episodes between the two as the Mark and Chloe subplots developed, and “Ski Trip” is cognizant of the audience’s need for a comedic salve.

Friends The One Without the Ski Trip

Thankfully, “Ski Trip” knows exactly where its strengths lie, and leans heavily on Chandler to deliver some comedic relief. It’s a bit of a showcase episode for Matthew Perry, recalling his childhood days of smoking and panic-induced dancing when his parents got divorced; there’s a lot of anxious physical comedy from Chandler in every scene, and it helps keep what is a rather pedestrian plot running through some of its (completely understandable) lulls.

Where the episode – and this season – continues to struggle, however, is with Ross – once again, “The One Without the Ski Trip” gives the dino doctor a real rough go, as he whines about not getting enough time with the group, and pouts at Carol’s door while she’s clearly waiting for Susan to come home for a romantic dinner (to further reinforce the feeling of season three twisting the knife into its characters, it is the anniversary of Susan and Carol getting together for the first time). It’s not the poutiest form of Ross, of course (oh, the lows that lie ahead), but his presence in the first two acts of “Ski Trip” feel like they’re still trying to justify Ross’s behavior through technicalities, rather than lean on some of the more established conflict in his relationship with Rachel, which were so much more active and engaging in earlier episodes this season. (It also marks the debut of his unfortunately iconic “We were on a break!” bit, one of my least favorite recurring jokes of the series).

“Ski Trip” really does Ross no favors (it even reveals he mostly lies to Carol about how he broke up with Rachel, which is just awful); but it is all for the purpose of beginning to slowly rebuild his character, of which I think the episode does a fairly good job. After Phoebe’s taxi runs out of gas (somewhere either on route 93 or 76), the group is stranded and faced with trying to call Ross to pick them up, which Rachel vehemently shuts down (we can just “live here”, she tells the group). Of course, she eventually laments – a decision that’s really forced upon her by the plot, but one necessary, lest this season have to continue navigating a complicated structure separating its main cast from interacting with each other – and Ross arrives to pick them up, immediately sparking a fight with Rachel.

Friends The One Without the Ski Trip

As Chandler dances and Phoebe pleads, Friends finds itself in a bit of a corner; there’s really no way to resolve what Ross did in 23 minutes’ time, but the writer’s room clearly realized they needed to move on quickly – not to wash over what happened, but to reinject some sense of hope into the series, given the many depressing turns each of its characters have taken into the (still-new) year. Outside of Rachel’s career change, it’s been a pile of shit for just about everyone; “Ski Trip” isn’t about everyone else, of course, but that pressure can be felt across the whole ensemble as the episode anxiously builds to its climactic fight.

And though “The One Without the Ski Trip” is not thoroughly convincing in its attempts to quickly rehabilitate Ross, I think the balance it strikes works. After all, it spends a lot more time rubbing his nose in the dirt than it does trying to speak to the supposed logicality of his actions; Ross can’t be let off the hook easy, but he also can’t continue to be a completely irredeemable character (at least, not yet!). It certainly ends exactly where it should: Rachel and the gang safely on their way to weekend on the slopes (or just the lift, in Phoebe’s case) while Ross gets stuck in Carol’s dead vehicle, left to contemplate the choices leading him to that moment.

“The One Without the Ski Trip” is a thoroughly unremarkable episode when considering its whole; it barely justifies the peace it brokers between Rachel and Ross, and outside of offering up another masterful iteration of Anxious Chandler, doesn’t have quite the big comedic punch you’d hope the episode following the heartbreaking final exchange of “The One With the Morning After?” But ultimately, I think that’s ok: Friends has put itself through the ringer in its last half-dozen episodes, and “Ski Trip” is the uneventful breather this season (unfortunately) needs, heading into its final stretch.

Grade: C+

Other thoughts/observations:

  • “Yesterday I was smoking again… today I’m smoking still.”
  • There’s nothing sadder than Ross trying to convince everyone to hang out for two days of darts and Laserdisc.
  • Joey tries to prepare for a helicopter to save them… by writing “PELH” in the snow, to ensure they can read it when they’re flying over.
  • The movie Chandler refers to after his dance is the Oscar-winning 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure, in where a cruise ship gets trapped within a tsunami (Gene Hackman and Leslie Nielson starred alongside the aforementioned Shelley Winters, among many others).
  • There’s a whole bit about the girls comparing bra sizes – and in the extended version, a great little bit where someone asks Phoebe if she was planning to meet someone during the ski trip, when she volunteers her underwire for Joey to break into the car with.
  • Extended thoughts: really not much difference between the two, except for an extra joke about Phoebe’s bra (and not a great one).

Up next: Friends kicks off Monica’s next big story (and teases Phoebe’s big season four arc to come) in “The One With the Hypnosis Tape”.

One thought on “Second Look: Friends Season 3 Episode 17 – “The One Without the Ski Trip”

  1. Yeah, I think the following episode (TOW The Hypnosis Tape) does a better job of bringing back the show’s focus on comedy, particularly with Chandler’s hilarious titular plot. Nonetheless, as you pointed out, the writers clearly had a massive hill to climb after the last few episodes. So it’s fairly understandable that this episode would feel a bit awkward.

    This episode DID, however, have one of my favorite jokes in the whole series, and one that would likely go over the heads of almost anybody under the age of 30 (it’s railing on an Environmental Awareness PSA from the early 1970’s that continued airing into the late-90’s): Chandler dropping his used cigarette in the snow and “justifying” it by saying he was “hoping that, if I littered, that crying Indian might come and save us!” 😀

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