They seem to be everywhere, and not just around here.
Lift attendants wear them. Cafeteria workers have them. Parking lot attendants, too.
Those colorful “I'm Out of Control” buttons tell the world that the Capital Region-based OC Ski Club has been in the neighborhood — whether that neighborhood is nearby, or in Maine, or Montana or in Europe. Members travel with a pocketful of the buttons, and pass them out wherever they go.
“There are a whole bunch in Chile,” said club vice president Matt Quackenbush, who organized a trip there a few years ago for the group known as “The OCs.”
With some 1,500 members, the club meets weekly in fall and winter at the Polish Community Center in Albany. The club organizes two or three one-day bus trips to ski centers in the area each week in season, plus extended trips to destination far and wide. This year, the club has already gone to Big Sky, Montana and Park City, Utah, and will be going to Davos, Switzerland, next month. Last week, 140 OC members were at Sunday River in Maine for five days.
The OC Ski Club was formed in 1960 by 10 high school friends — nine guys and one girl. The name came from an incident the previous winter at Stowe involving founding member Don Cornell. Asked what happened, an instructor who saw the accident said: “That's out of control.”
Not all of the original group were skiers, but the weekly get-togethers proved appealing, and by 1964, there were almost 100 members in the club and skiing was the focus. Longtime Albany architect Dick Hoffman joined that year.
“I was on a break from school and interested in skiing,” Hoffman said. “I went to the Albany Ski Show at the Armory on Washington Avenue and saw an OC Booth. It looked good to me.”
Ten years later, Hoffman was elected president of the club, which by then had grown to approximately 300 members, and meetings had moved to the current location on Washington Avenue Extension, where it has stayed. At one point, the club membership grew to more than 2,000, but has now settled back to 1,500 members, including almost 100 newcomers in the past year.
The club’s appeal is clear. Skiing does not have a problem attracting people to try the sport, but its issue is retention. There are two main reasons people give for stopping — the cost being too expensive, and not having anyone to go with.
Ski clubs address those issues. The bus trips always come with discounted ski passes. Plus, what better way to meet new friends with similar interests than to attend meetings and travel with a group?
Don't ski? The OCs have some 30 members who are certified instructors and provide lessons for those who want them for free as part of the trips.
Most ski areas are enthusiastic supporters.
“Ski clubs are incredibly important,” said longtime Stratton Mountain marketing official Myra Foster. “The clubs provide the social component to the sport. Skiing is so much more fun when you do it with friends. And with the transportation and the discounts, the clubs are like having concierge service to the mountains."
At one time, there were several ski clubs in the area. Now, the Albany Ski Club and the Schenectady Wintersports Club are the only others open to the general public and still meeting regularly. The OCs have been the largest for some time.
Over time, the demographics have changed.
In the early years, the members were primarily young adults: singles and married couples without children. The meetings were active social gatherings, and the bus trips have been described as skiing's version of speed dating. Many marriages came after first meetings at the club.
Today, the membership is older, often people who have come back to skiing after raising families, and are rebuilding a social life based on a shared interest. The club also maintains an active volleyball program in the warm-weather months, plus connections to golf, hiking and other activities.
Jim Waugaman, now retired after a career as an engineer for New York state, joined the club in the early 1970s after graduating from RPI.
“Like a lot of the members back then, I was young and single, and didn't have much money,” said Waugaman, a former club president. “The OC Ski Club was just right for me."
Kathy Marvin has been a member of the club since the mid-1980s. She is not one who likes sitting on the sidelines. As vice president of administration, she works with 13 committees of the club on everything from social media to volleyball details.
“I started out just interested in the volleyball,” Marvin said. “Then it was on to cross country, then downhill skiing. Now, this is where my friends are and I enjoy being part of the group.”
To join the OCs, you pay $40 and become a first-year member. Full membership comes after attending three meetings, performing three hours of service in club activities and being part of three club ski days. Full members pay $35 per year as dues.
At one point, activity sign-up was done in person, but now much of it can be done online. The club maintains an active website at ocskiclub.org and, in addition to meetings and trips, there are frequent informal gatherings at various places throughout the area.
“I'm Out of Control” members and alumni will celebrate the club's 60th anniversary next winter.
Defending state high school giant slalom champion Hannah Klingebiel from Schuylerville, who won both the girls’ slalom and giant slalom Section II titles last week, will lead the area team into the state high school Alpine ski championships Monday and Tuesday at Gore Mountain. The state Nordic ski competition will be on the same days next door at the North Creek Ski Bowl.
Other top Section II girls’ contenders for state Alpine racing honors include Maddie Montgomery from Queensbury and Melissa Taggert from Shenendehowa, and for the boys’ races, it’s Hunter Montgomery from Queensbury, Patrick Leonard from Shenendehowa and Tyler Munter from Saratoga Springs leading the way.
On the Nordic side, top Section II girls’ contenders are expected to be Bailey Gengel from Queensbury, Madison Relyea from Mayfield and Katrin Schreiner from Hadley-Luzerne. For the boys, Paul Lindsey from Lake George and Erik Schreiner from Hadley-Luzerne lead the way.
If you missed the moonlight snowshoe tour at Lapland Lake earlier this month, there will be another on March 2 at the cross country center.
Check with [email protected] for details.
SKIING HISTORY DAY
Dig out the stretch pants and the bulky old parka, and take your place in the parade on March 2 as Bromley joins with the International Skiing History Association to celebrate the ski area’s 81st birthday.
The all-comers parade starts at 11:30 a.m., is followed by lunch, and a history and vintage equipment presentations in the base lodge.
For details, check bromley.com/winter/events.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].