BLOOMINGTON – A lack of snow isn't the only challenge facing the Bloomington-Normal Ski and Social Club.
Today's generation of 20-somethings aren't the “joiners” of previous generations, club leaders say.
Nevertheless, they hope a variety of activities – on and off the slopes – will attract more participants of all ages.
Among ski outings planned this season are day trips to Chestnut Mountain in Illinois and Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin, and longer trips to Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Banff, Alberta, Canada.
And, in 2016, the club plans to go to Europe, something it tries to do about every three years.
In the past, the club had more numerous trips, sometimes filling two buses. Now, there generally is just one bus and they might partner with another group, such as the Champaign Ski Club.
But while the numbers involved may have changed, the love of skiing and other outdoor activities remains.
“It's part of trying to stay in shape and we have a good time,” said Bill Semlak, a member of the club since 1986.
“Skiing gives me an opportunity to stay active all winter,” said Curt Johnson, who snowshoes and cross-country skis. He first joined the club in the early 1980s.
Both emphasized that the ski club is more than a ski club.
“That's why we changed the name to the Bloomington-Normal Ski and Social Club,” Semlak said.
Club members get together for “happy hours” at local establishments and for potlucks. About 50 people attended this year's Halloween Party.
The group also gets together in winter for sledding and curling.
Non-winter activities have included a canoe trip on the Mackinaw River and a hiking-biking trip to Wisconsin's Door County, as well as volleyball.
Planning has begun for next year's summer trips, Semlak said.
Another biking trip will be planned, Semlak said, “someplace with a nice social atmosphere and good biking.” Hot air balloon rides also are under consideration, he said.
Whether those trips attract more younger club members is the big question.
“The members have gone down and the ages have gone up,” Johnson said.
Other clubs have had similar problems, he noted.
Michael Sulzberger, vice president of the McLean County Wheelers, said, “We have a core group,” with an average age of “probably 60.” Newer members are in their 40s, he said.
Membership is “steady, maybe growing slightly.”
Semlak thinks young people still are skiing, biking and hiking.
“They just don't join clubs,” Semlak said.
Sulzberger agreed that it “might be a generational thing.”
“I think part of the reason we don't see a lot of young people come on our rides is our rides aren't real fast,” Sulzberger said. “Young people gravitate toward a more vigorous workout.”
He noted that a lot of cyclists who are interested in racing ride with teams sponsored by local bike shops but don't join clubs such as the Wheelers.
“I'm not sure why we don't have more crossover,” Sulzberger said.
Tod Williamson, president of the Lake Run Club, said his group, along with the Wheelers and Tri-Shark Triathlon Club, have pretty good retention and renewals each year but, as a whole, numbers are down.
“Even our club, being one of the largest in Illinois, is looking for ways to increase participation with fun social events and training programs,” Williamson said of the Lake Run Club.
He thinks part of the club membership decline is a result of there being more exercise opportunities and popular classes available, such as Cross-Fit and Zumba.
But Johnson said, “I don't think they're as outdoorsy as previous generations. That's my perception.”
There are signs of hope.
Eight of the 29 people signed up for the Banff trip are 30 or younger, and the co-chair for winter trips is 30, Johnson said.
And the club's socials and non-ski activities are attracting people, Semlak said.
Sulzberger applauded the ski club for reaching out and inviting people to join a variety of activities.
“Getting to know more and more people who love the outdoors is all good,” Sulzberger said.