The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 16, 2022 1:00 am

Ski club adapts, on or off slopes

Despite virus, group embraces fun, socializing

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

There were times when members of the Fort Wayne Ski Club weren't sure if 2022 would mean a celebration of its 85th anniversary or a time of sorrow because of its disbanding.

“I really was afraid COVID was going to kill us because we couldn't do anything,” club President Deb Farrell said. “We're a social club and for the past year and a half we virtually haven't done anything. We've struggled to have board meetings to meet and talk about what we couldn't do.”

But like many, club members adapted. Since skiing is done outdoors, and it's easy to socially distance, they participated in four of the five scheduled trips, though with limited numbers because of travel restrictions. They continued monthly meetings so they could be fully prepared when the usual opportunities returned. They also maintained their close, personal ties by finding other things to do together.

“Our skiing community is like a big family, so we understood that we needed to lay off for a little while, take care of ourselves and we'd still be around when we got over this,” Treasurer Dave Billian said. “I think we have such a solid base and a core membership that we just go through it.”

This year, they have a full schedule of six skiing trips over the next two months, including a major jaunt to Telluride, Colorado, the first week in March to complete the season. That's under the auspices of the Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council.

There's also a Wednesday night Race League at Swiss Valley held the first six Wednesdays of the year. Like the trips, the race league is open to participants of almost any age.

The Fort Wayne Ski Club is not only about skiing, the members stressed. It's also about friendships, so they concentrate on social activities until the weather cooperates.

They've gone kayaking, held Halloween parties, played golf, continued their tennis league, ridden on bike tours, hosted lake parties, organized hog roasts and hay rides and a Christmas dinner. Once a month, they'll meet at a restaurant with at least 40 people showing up every time. All the opportunities are announced in the monthly newsletter, Mogul Yodeler.

“That was the one thing that kept in touch with people,” Billian said. “There's a core of maybe 50 people who go to the monthly meetings no matter what. Once they get in the ski club, they rarely drop out, or if they do, they move someplace where they can pursue the skiing further than we can provide here in Indiana.”

In fact, Billian said, there's a group of members who don't ski anymore because of age or other circumstances, but they participate in all the other activities. The club has about 90 members, Farrell said, and have recently added seven more.

“We are a fun bunch of people,” Farrell said. “We enjoy each other's company, and we don't have a lot of drama. We have good, clean fun.”

Now that the weather is turning colder, the focus returns to skiing. There are five trips to Michigan scheduled over the next two months before Telluride. Dan Smith is the club's vice president of slopes, which means he's the trip leader, a position he's held for six years.

“I love it because I want to make sure trips run and everybody has fun,” said Smith, an engineer with the Allen County surveyor's office. He's been a club member for over 20 years and said he skis 10 to 15 times per season.

There are also individual leaders for each trip, some of whom have guided those excursions for years, and the club has built relationships with some of the resorts over 50 years. The club never goes to one destination twice in one year.

“If we can get snow up north, I think this is going to be a good year, and next year's going to be even better than that,” Smith said.

And skiing is not the only winter activity the club promotes, as Farrell ticks off snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, tubing and more.

“I'm glad that so many people have signed up and are participating now,” Farrell said. “I think people are so sick and tired of being holed up that they are glad to come back.”

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