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Ski club keeping members active through winter since 1961

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 5:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 10:52 a.m. CDT

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The first time Fox Valley Snowdrifters Ski Club member Pam Murray went skiing was 13 years ago.

“It was so exciting and exhilarating; I loved it,” Murray, a St. Charles resident, said of the experience. “And then, when I got home, I found out I had cancer.”

It was her newfound affection for the wintry pastime that proved to be the incentive needed to defeat the disease, she said.

“I decided, ‘that’s it! I’m getting better, because I am going to learn to ski,’” she said.

Once she beat cancer, and with “an inch of hair on her head” after a strong regiment of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she joined the Snowdrifters Ski Club to do just that.

“[The club] has been a big part of my life since,” Murray said. “Things that I would never ever have done on my own, I did with the ski club. I can’t say my life would have been as full having not joined.”

Murray is just one of nearly 100 Snowdrifters Ski Club members from around the area, who have found camaraderie through a common interest in the outdoors – specifically skiing.

“These people are like my family,” she said, gesturing to about 25 members who attended one of its recent bi-weekly club meetings at Old Towne Pub and Eatery in Geneva.

The club was founded in 1961. Its last-remaining charter member, Batavia-resident Bill Schrauth, said he started it when he was 28 years old with the help of “six to 12 people,” simply because they “liked to ski.”

“Between water skiing and snow skiing, it’s about all I ever did,” Schrauth said. “I never would have left the area if it weren’t for snow skiing.”

Over the course of the club’s 52-year run, Schrauth has traveled all over the world and met myriad walks of life. Though a bachelor himself, he said, he has also witnessed the meeting and marriage of more than 30 couples in the club.

“It’s just as much a social club as it is a ski club,” said Aurora resident Joe Hopp, the club’s current president.

In addition to ski-related outings, Hopp said the club engages in off-season social excursions as well, which has included a Metra pub crawl; golf outings; canoe trips along the Fox River; and visits to the Ravinia in Highland Park and Aurora’s Paramount Theatre and RiverEdge Park.

The skiing, however, remains the heart of the Snowdrifters club, which specifically focuses on Western U.S. and European ski and snowboarding trips and comprises all levels of ski enthusiasts, from beginners to experts, as well as those who solely take part in the social and travel components of the club.

Because the club is a part of the Chicago Metropolitan Ski Council, a nonprofit organization that supports 70 area ski and snowboard clubs across the Chicago metropolitan area and its neighboring states, it receives discounted group rates for ski trips.

“It’s so much more economical when you get the buying power of CMSC; the trips become affordable,” Hopp said, adding that the club also allows members to pay for its snow-centric travels through installments payed throughout the year.

Through the club, Hopp has visited about 14 ski resorts world-wide.

“I love to travel, and it has afforded me the opportunity to travel throughout the continental U.S. and also overseas,” Hopp said.

St. Charles resident Frank Hodowal joined the club with his wife in 1990 after moving to the area from Colorado, where he skied regularly. Hodowal, a retiree, has held nearly every club title, but currently serves as the club’s trip chairman, volunteering his time to orchestrating the club’s various trip itineraries.

Being a club member for about two decades, Hodowal said he has traveled to nearly every ski resort in the U.S., but his favorite ski trip was to Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Italian Dolomites.

When choosing destinations, he tries to select resorts the club has yet to experience, while also returning to club favorites once about every five years, he said.

“It’s like playing at a golf course,” Hodowal said. “You don’t want to play the same one over and over again.”

For January, Hodowal has planned a weekend getaway to Marquette Mountain in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula ($240) and a week-long trip to Whistler in British Columbia, Canada ($1,440).

Those interested in enrolling for a trip must be members first. Membership to the club costs $30 annually, and $25 for advanced registration after a year of membership.

Despite the club’s longevity, this year’s trip sign-up has seemed “sluggish,” Hodowal said. “I don’t know if it’s the economy and people are worried about their jobs or what, but it has been a bit slower than usual.”

Membership also has been taking a hit.

“The club has gotten a little older,” Hodowal said. “Everyone is suffering with membership right now. That is typical of the different ski clubs in the area.”

Schrauth said he hopes the club he created will continue and prosper, but it needs more active and younger members to flourish.

Hodowal agreed.

“I just want people to know that we exist out here,” Hodowal said. “There are a lot of skiers around the Fox Valley area, but a lot of people don’t even know about the ski club.”

To learn more about the Fox Valley Snowdrifters Ski Club, visit www.fvssc.wildapricot.org or attend one of its bi-weekly meetings that take place at Old Towne Pub and Eatery (upstairs), 201 W. State St., Geneva, at 8 p.m. the first and third Monday of every month October through April; and 8 p.m. the third Monday of every month May through September.

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