The Oldest Ski Club in New Jersey
Few people know that skiing as an “organized sport” in New Jersey found its roots in the hearts and minds of a just a handful of enthusiasts. It was borne of a vision shared by “a few good men,” who possessed a passion for the snow, the mountains, and the sheer thrill of pointing those tips downhill. According to Erling Omland, one of the founders of the Watchung Amateur Ski Club, Francis S. Mathewson, who was then Director of Recreation for the Union County Park Commission, was readying ski sites at Warinanco Park in the Watchung Reservation because of the popularity of cross-country skiing and jumping. In 1935, he had inaugurated the first of several annual cross country races held in the Watchung Reservation.
Mathewson recognized the need for a structured organization that would serve the public’s growing interest and awareness of the sport, and approached Omland, who along with Theodore Pistor, William Frutchey, Richard Wade and Thomas Huitfeldt, agreed to form the state’s first ski club. The group wrote the bylaws for the new organization, and on December 8, 1938, in the Union County Park Commission Administration Building in Elizabeth, the Watchung Amateur Ski Club had its first meeting. Their first trip, to Mt. Mansfield in Vermont, was held just a few weeks later.
Omland, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 97, spent the last years of life living (and skiing!) in Rutland, VT at Pico Mountain, where there is a trail named in his honor. He is considered a hero: Omland is a veteran “ski trooper” of the renowned World War II “Tenth Mountain Division,” one of hundreds of soldiers (including many Watchungers), who in 1945, braved the enemy and the elements, fighting on skis in the Italian Alps. “If I paint a glowing picture of our early camaraderie in New Jersey, it is because those days did glow,” he said. “The road conditions and the speed of the cars we drove to the ski sites gave us long periods of travel time when we would engage in good, deep conversation. After skiing, we sang songs that had their origins in the European ski countries.”
The Watchung Amateur Ski Club Today
Today, the Watchung Amateur Ski Club carries on the tradition established by its founders so many years ago. Although the transportation is faster and traveling time shorter, the good conversation and camaraderie that happens during the “getting there and back” on Watchung’s trips, is considered to be an integral part of what makes the Club skiing/riding experience so meaningful. The “Chungers,” as they call themselves, are a warm, open and welcoming bunch. It is a group comprised of all ages, from all walks of life, skiers and snowboarders of all levels—whose simple but strong bond is their sharing of a great love of the sport.
Each season, the Club organizes one-day bus trips to nearby ski areas in the Poconos and Berkshires such as Windham, Elk Mountain, Blue Mountain, Belleayre, and Plattekill; weekend trips to New England and Upstate New York, and an annual week-long trip out West to a major ski resort. All of the trips include lift passes and accommodations (and often extras!). Most are drive-up trips, and the club helps arrange carpools so no one is ever traveling alone. We round out our season with regular special dinners, parties, and other get-togethers. During the warm months, an active calendar includes biking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, hiking, miniature golf, bowling nights, pool parties, beach gatherings, dinners at local restaurants and more.
The Watchung Amateur Ski Club meets at 8 p.m. every Thursday (except Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s week) at the Mountainside Elks Club, Route 22 East, Mountainside. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for drinks (cash bar) and that all-important camaraderie. For more information on trips, meetings and membership, email firstname.lastname@example.org.