They're hidden around the valley in plain sight. Pass through the doors and enter a world of ski culture, fueled by skiers and snowboarders passionate about their sports. Ski clubs are social spots, providing sleeping quarters, kitchen, common room, bathrooms, parties, dances and other events. Discounted lift tickets, travel opportunities, ski racing, and local deals are benefits. Pay annual dues, help with some housekeeping and enjoy the club year-round. Members are voted in; bring guests.
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There are nearly 20 ski clubs with homes in the valley, according to the Eastern Inter-Club Ski League, each with its own history and flavor.
It's easy to miss Intervale's Ala-Bye Ski Club off Route 16 A not far from Limmer Boots. There isn't a big sign. Instead a small plaque and set of wooden skis mark the entrance to the family-focused club that's been around since the late 1940s.
Think summer camp. Inside is a barebones simplicity with males and females sleeping on separate levels.
During the club's fledging days men had to climb a ladder to get to their upstairs digs while firewood to heat the joint was a scant twenty bucks a cord. The club's mission was to have affordable accommodations for the then growing sport of skiing.
Hanover's John Brady first joined the club in 1971 when he was working at Wildcat (he worked at the mountain for 40 years) while attending college and needed a place to stay. Life went on for him and for a spell he left the club as family life took him down another slope. But he returned to the club and continues to spend a lot of time in the valley.
The 59-year-old Dartmouth College ski and sailing instructor says skiing is a sport that if you come up for one day or a weekend your cost for the day is very high.
"But if you commit and join a club and buy a season pass, arrange for a way to cook your food, it's an investment that can make skiing affordable," he said.
Not far away is the Polecat Ski Club with many of its members in their 20s and 30s. The large red house is easily spotted. There's lots of room inside. The bar is decorated with snowboards and trail signs on the wall. Around the corner is the living room with a flat screen TV. The kitchen and dining room are comfortable while the bunk rooms (including a co-ed bunk room with double beds) are upstairs. Outside, a porch is a welcome sun spot.
Founded in 1953, the house can sleep 48 people. Membership typifies valley demographics, drawing people from Boston and its environs, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York.
Boston lawyer Holly Purdy, 34, met her fellow Bostonian boyfriend Bob McMillan at a valley ski club function. Being in the club allows her a place to chill after a dizzying workweek. Her skiing's gotten better. She's a fan of the camaraderie in the club, of skiing with club members.
Plus, she can bring her dog.
"If you don't ski a lot, you don't get better," she said. "Being in a club makes me a better skier and makes the weekends affordable. People are willing to help and give me pointers."
The Massa-Schussers ski club, founded in 1947, is one of the most visible clubs located on Route 302 in Glen. Inside the three-story house is an Alps-like atmosphere. A fieldstone fireplace is the centerpiece of a room featuring a dart board and bar. The sleeping quarters are upstairs while the dining room, kitchen and TV are downstairs. There are storage rooms for downhill skis and snowboards while cross-country skiers have an outside shed.
Scott and Sheryl James of Danvers, Mass., joined two years ago after their grown children left home. A typical weekend might be arriving Friday evening to the roaring fire with music playing and appetizers at the bar while catching up with other members. They might walk down to the Red Parka or hang around the house. Saturday's the downhill day with apres ski at the house with board and bar games. They might buy in to the $15 per person dinner at the house. Sunday's the day for cross-country or snowshoeing before heading home.
"This is a great way to spend time up here doing things that you like with a ready-made community who enjoy the same type of things," Scott said.
UPDATED TE 1-14-13