Years ago I accidentally met my wife Kathy through the Dayton, Ohio Ski Club. We were on a weekend trip to Boyne Highlands. Heavy snows had caused a power failure on Sunday afternoon. I tripped over her while attempting to find a place to sit in the darkened, crowded Zoo Bar in the base lodge.
I can't say it was love at first sight as we couldn't see each other. But we hit it off (literally), and amour took its course. We promised to love, cherish, and ski together forever.
Similar romantic scenes are played out over and over throughout the Heartland. The majority of ski clubs are really year-round social clubs. The word "ski" is often a misnomer. The point here is that a "ski" club is not just for skiing. It can also fill your social calendar, providing not only romance, but all the friends you need, and than some. It's an endless supply of like-minded people.
Many choose a ski club based on common interests other than skiing. There's the Chicagoland Club 50 for people over 50; the Alpine Ski Club, Palatine, Ill., a German-speaking club; Bloomington-Normal Ski Club, Bloomington, Ill., primarily for college students; Chicago Police Ski Club, primarily for law enforcement officers; Jim Dandys, Detroit, the largest ski club made up of African-Americans in the world; Ford Thunderbirds, Dearborn, Mich., for Ford employees; Three Trackers, Ohio, dedicated to the promotion of skiing for disabled persons.
These are just a few samples. There are similar clubs sprinkled throughout the Midwest. Many are part of larger umbrella groups like the Metropolitan Detroit Ski Council (25 clubs), Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council, (78 clubs), Midwest Sports/Ski Council (25 clubs), and the Cleveland Metro Ski Council (25 clubs).
Going to the various Web sites is the easiest way to find a particular club. Individual club profiles are listed on each website.
Some ski councils are multi-state. The Chicago Ski Council has clubs from Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and, of course, Illinois. The Detroit Ski Council has clubs from not only Michigan, but Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario. The Midwest Ski Council, located in Minnesota, also has member clubs from neighboring Wisconsin and Iowa.
A bit more than half the Midwest clubs are true family-type clubs. In the Chicago Ski Council, largest in the Heartland, 46 of the 78 clubs allow kids on ski trips. The others do not and generally have a 21 minimum age requirement, because alcohol is available at most social functions.
Many clubs were originally formed to provide economical commercial ski trips, including transportation and lodging for its members.
"We've been around for 54 years as the Metropolitan Detroit Ski Council with a membership of around 2,000 to 2,500 people in 25 separate clubs," says President Janet Kangas. "Most of our clubs are active year-round with their own agendas. I'm not sure that we always provide the most economic means for a trip. An individual might be able to go for less, but for most of us, it's the camaraderie of friends that we've skied with for years. That's what makes our trips special."
Clubs can also help in the learning curve if you're new to snowsports. Some clubs will sponsor seminars on buying equipment. Some like the Sitzmark Ski Club of Milwaukee have instructional programs to get new skiers and riders going quickly.
Many Midwest ski clubs are heavy into racing. It's a phenomenon a bit unique to the Midwest according to ski-club guru Bob Wilbanks, who edits the National Ski Club Newsletter.
"It's unique in the Midwest, and I think it's relative to the size of the ski hills the clubs have to choose from," Wilbanks once told me. "At the major ski resorts east and west, you can spend a day skiing, exploring, and probably not cover the entire area. Racing is a focal point that keeps them interested and busy in the Midwest."
The various clubs of each council have their own races and the councils also schedule a large event each season. The Cleveland Metro Ski Council sayson its Web site: "We feel we have the best adult-amateur racing program in the U.S. Period!" I guess the gauntlet has been thrown down.
They aren't the only serious ones. The Toledo Ski Club owns a home near Boyne Mountain where members are taught how to work on their own skis the night before a race.
Clubs come in all sizes from the huge Vagabond Ski Clubof Milwaukee (1,200 members) to the not-so-huge Stumpjumpers, Westmont, Ill., (under 50 members). The average size of a Midwest club is around 300-400 members. In general, the larger the group, the more frequent the trips, because there are more people around to organize them.
Another advantage of membership is the number of trips you're eligible for if your club is a member of a larger council. Members have first dibs on their own club's trips. However, if a club trip doesn't fill, it's often opened to the rest of the clubs within the council.
Finding a ski club is easy. Talk to local ski shops and find out who the active clubs are. Fellow skiers and boarders are another good source of information. Any newcomer to a city should check into local ski clubs. Clubs are a great, non-threatening way of meeting people and finding like-minded individuals to have fun with year around. You may find a mate in the process.