Cool Club, Swanky Skiers

When the Long Island East Ski Club was established in 1971, its founders couldn’t have foreseen what it would become. Forty years later, its members have traveled all over the world, their passport stamps denoting stops at some of the lushest ski resorts in Europe.

It isn’t just any ski club and that’s the point.

It began over a conversation at the Sand Bar Tavern in Sag Harbor. Its first excursion consisted of 15 people carpooling to Big Vanilla, a now-defunct ski area in the Catskills, for a weekend. Like the club’s headcount, the trips began to grow in scale. Since the mid-1970s, the group has routinely arranged trips west—to Aspen, Jackson Hole and Park City, as well as overseas.

The European adventures began in the early 2000s. Over the club’s first three decades, members, whether on their own or as a group, skied at nearly every major ski resort in North America. Their first European conquest was Chamonix in 2001. Located in southeastern France, the resort was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924.

The club doesn’t visit the same site twice during any 10-year period. Other destinations over the club’s four decades include Switzerland and Austria. It will add Italy to that list with its all-inclusive visit to Sestriere, site of the 2006 Olympics, from January 20-28.

“When you go to Europe, it’s a vacation instead of a trip; I don’t know how else to describe it,” said trip coordinator Debra Di Francesco. “It’s an experience with an adventure. You never get bored either. Here you can ski the same runs, but you can ski an entire week in Europe and not ski the same runs.”

The club welcomes skiers of all ages and abilities, and members hail from all over; from the East End to Las Vegas, Arizona and Florida. Its oldest member, Bob Jones of Remsenburg, will turn 90 in time for a Steamboat Springs trip. The average trip consists of approximately 40 people.

“We try to keep it intimate,” Di Francesco said. “Everybody knows everybody. When you go on a trip and you’re a new member, when you come back, you are intimately associated with everyone on that trip. You are welcomed.”

Di Francesco doesn’t hide that it’s an “upscale” organization; other clubs may do a day trip, a weekend perhaps. The Long Island East Ski Club however, spends more to do more. It stays in four-star hotels, takes advantage of indoor pools and spas, and eats and drinks merrily after a long day on the slopes.

Trips are social gatherings as much as they are ski trips; for some, including Di Francesco, it’s the means by which members have met their spouses. They ski in packs, with everyone carrying a walkie-talkie in case anyone gets lost. They eat lunch in the ski lodge together and then dinner back at the hotel.

“Every night you leave the table and wonder if your ski clothes are going to fit the next day,” Di Francesco said.

From March 3-10, it travels to Steamboat Springs, CO, a trip for which there are still openings at a cool $1,850 for non-members. It includes airfare, lodging and a week’s worth of skiing.

“It has people of all ages and all walks of life,” Di Francesco said. “And when people come into this club and make friends, it’s a lifetime friendship.”

brett mauser

Brett Mauser has been a monthly contributor for Long Island Pulse since June 2006. In addition to freelancing for a variety of regional and national publications, he is the executive director of Hamptons Collegiate Baseball.