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Ski club offers Floridians cool escape

Lacy Haller decided in the middle of August that she had to go snow skiing this winter.

"It was so hot and miserable that I just had to think of some escape," Haller said.

She found it by joining the Tampa Bay Snow Skiers, a club that allows sun-baked Floridians to chill out on mountain slopes at reduced rates.

The club, which boasts more than 2,200 members, is sponsoring 18 ski trips this winter to places such as Colorado, Austria and Hungary. Trips range from as little as $485 to $1,730 per person. Membership in the club costs $25 for individuals and $40 for a family.

"The main thing of the ski club is fun," said Jack Boyd, club trip committee chairman. "If you can't give good trip value and have a lot of fun, you won't have a following."

The club also sponsors monthly meetings with events such as Wednesday's swap shop. About 300 people came to the meet at the Holiday Inn Airport to find bargains on ski equipment and ski clothing. More people were expected, but they were at another cold weather pastime _ the first Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game.

"I knew 50 people who had tickets," said Diana Rao, who is a club trip leader. "We had box seats, but I had to be here."

"Most members, as a rule, probably lived up north at one time and they've come down here so they've had some skiing experience," club president Steve Flora said. "However, we do have a lot of Crackers that were raised in the South and never seen snow that have gone skiing, too."

For some people, the club's social opportunities are as important as the bargain trips.

Tom and Kitty Brown of Tampa liked to go on ski trips, but Tom always had the better time because he was the better skier.

"I was terrified and almost quit after my first trip," Kitty Brown said.

But she stuck with it, and now she's glad she did, especially since the couple joined the club. The couple skis with people of similar ability, and then meet for lunch and dinner.

"We're going four times this year," Tom Brown said.

Joyce Michel, who joined the club at the swap shop, said it would be impossible to research all the different resorts thoroughly while planning a ski trip for her family.

"I came immediately when I saw the fliers," Michel said. "You have the information and exposure to other places."

Rao clearly remembers her first club trip to Crested Butte, Colo.: She broke her left hand in the tub on the first day, and skied all week with a yellow plastic bag covering it.

"My fingers were nice and blue; they didn't match any of my outfits," Rao said with a laugh. "I just took my Tylenol and skied."

Rao said skiing provides a combination of exercise and solitude.

"Go find a run, and you're by yourself," Rao said. "All you hear is the sound of your skis and the wind by your ears."

To meet or learn

The Tampa Bay Snow Skiers meet the first Wednesday of every month at the Holiday Inn, 4500 W Cypress St. Meetings begin at 7 p.m. For information, call 872-6203, or membership director Alan Jackson at 847-3900.

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