Although Great Britain has only a few ski resorts of its own in Scotland, the British are a nation of keen skiers and have had a significant influence on the development of alpine ski racing. They also have the biggest ski club in the world - the Ski Club of Great Britain - which has continued to adapt and evolve over more than a century, while retaining the core aims of those who set about founding the Ski Club in 1903.

How the Ski Club of Great Britain began

Back in 1903, when ski lifts and safety bindings were unknown, 12 men sat down to dinner at a fashionable restaurant in London (Cafe Royal) and decided to form a ski club - the Ski Club of Great Britain. Their aim was to encourage other people to learn to ski, help members improve and take more enjoyment from their skiing while bringing together people interested in the sport.

Early Years

In 1905 the Ski Club began publishing the British Ski Year Book, effectively the club's magazine. The early year books are a fascinating record of the changes in equipment, clothes, the development of ski lifts, the technique of skiing, costs and holidays over the years.

There are references in early volumes to reaching resorts by horse drawn sleighs, pictures of ladies skiing in skirts and reports of races where competitors started at the same time racing down unprepared slopes.

Before World War I the Ski Club's focus was cross-country skiing, with the first official British ski championships in Saanenmoser, Switzerland consisting of cross-country combined with a jumping competition.

1920s

The post-war years saw important steps forward in the course of ski history. Other ski clubs, such as the Ladies Ski Club and Kandahar Ski Club, were formed with a focus on racing, and alpine skiing began to evolve.

The first British National Ski Championships to include downhill (Alpine) skiing took place in Wengen in 1921 and were organized by Arnold Lunn on behalf of the Ski Club of Great Britain. The Ski Club continued to influence changes in the Alps in 1921, as they encouraged the Swiss to open the railways in Zermatt, Wengen and Mürren during the winter – the first ski lifts. The next year Arnold Lunn set up the first modern slalom in Mürren. Competitors were judged on speed through pairs of gates. He got the idea from the Norwegians as they tested people skiing fast down amongst trees. The test was seen as a true test of skiing in natural conditions because racers were not allowed to study the course before the race.

Another famous skier of this time was Gerald Seligman (Ski Club President 1927-1929), who did much of the early research on the structure of snow crystals. His study was used as the basis of avalanche research because it differentiated between the crystals which knitted together as they fell, and those which turned into tiny glassy globules and formed unstable layers capable of producing dangerous slides.

During the mid 1920s the Ski Club began to develop services for members. They provided snow and weather reports to national newspapers for the first time, and the first Ski Club representatives were sent out to the Alps in 1928. The Ski Club was also making a concerted effort at this time to have downhill and slalom racing officially recognised. They circulated an appeal to all the national associations but not one of them replied. In 1928 there was a breakthrough as the International Ski Federation (FIS) provisionally approved the British rules for downhill and slalom at a congress meeting in Oslo. The rules were officially approved in 1930. The 1920s ended with the introduction of the Pery Medal, awarded for the most notable contributions to skiing. 

1930s

The 1930s started with the first World Championships in downhill and slalom at Mürren. These were organized by the Ski Club of Great Britain. There was criticism from some members that the club was too race-orientated. However, those keen on racing accused it of being biased towards mountaineering, so maybe the balance was about right after all. Another milestone was achieved in 1936 when Arnold Lunn persuaded the International Olympic Committee to include downhill and slalom in the Winter Olympic Games held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. At this time Arnold Lunn remarked that it was as strange for a Briton to have so much influence on the sport of skiing, as it would be for an Eskimo to revolutionise the sport of cricket. It is no surprise, therefore, that he encountered some opposition from Alpine and Scandinavian countries.

The Ski Club and its leaders started to organise touring parties during the 1930s too. These were to teach people to ski and keep them entertained in the evenings. This still exists today, as the unique Ski Club Freshtracks holiday programme and the Ski Club Leader service.

During World War II the British Ski Year Book continued to be published. It found its way to Field marshal Montgomery in the desert and to prisoners of war in the dreaded Changi jail.

Post World War II

After WWII the Ski Club moved offices from Hobart Place to 118 Eaton Square. Ski Club member Donald Gomme, who had worked in an aircraft factory during the War and learned how to bond wood with aluminum, manufactured the Gomme ski. It was the first ski to include a layer of metal. In the winter of 1963 the first Ski Club Reps Course was held over 10 days in Sauze d’Oulx, Italy. Ski Club Reps (now known as Leaders) were taught about mountain safety, how to look after members in resorts and how to cooperate with resort staff.

The National Ski Federation of Great Britain (later renamed the British Ski Federation, and now the British Ski and Snowboard) was set up in 1964 as the governing body of skiing in Great Britain. The Ski Club had decided that too much of the subscription money collected from members was being used to keep the national alpine and cross-country racing teams operating. Accommodation and travel costs abroad were rising fast and as a membership organisation the Club could not apply to the Sports Council or Government for grants. The Ski Club continued to share premises with the Ski Federation until the 1980s.

1970s

During the early 1970s the Ski Club introduced ski holidays for families. The British Ski Year Book was also revamped at this time, from a small blue book to a colourful A4 magazine called Ski survey. In the mid 1970s the family trips were renamed 'Skiing Parties with a Purpose' which were based on the idea of skiing with a Rep, and some of the holidays included an instruction element. The holiday programme was extended in the late 1970s to include adult and over 50s holidays which still exist today as Peak Experience.

1980s

Throughout the 1980s the Ski Club concentrated its efforts into smoothing the path of holiday skiers, who amounted to about a million people each year in Great Britain. These efforts lead to the creation of the Information Department to advise both members and non members on resorts, travel and equipment.

1990s

In the winter season of 1995-96 the Ski Club launched www.skiclub.co.uk. This was the first ever wintersports website, which continues to be one of the leading wintersports websites in the world. The following year saw the holidays programme expand once more, with the incorporation of the off piste ski company ‘Freshtracks’. This increased the off piste programme enormously and included many holidays with mountain guides. 1997 saw the Ski Club move from its leasehold premises in Eaton Square to a new freehold building in Wimbledon Village, just down the road from the All England Lawn Tennis Association. The Wimbledon offices included bar facilities and the Arnold Lunn Library where ski memorabilia, artwork, pictures of early races and an extensive collection of skiing publications reside. In 1997 Ski survey was renamed Ski and board and then in 1999 the magazine was redesigned to make it more inspirational and appeal to a wider audience.

2000s

The website was relaunched in 2000 which transformed it from a ‘brochure’ website to a fully interactive site. 2003 was a milestone as the Ski Club had been in existence for 100 years encouraging millions of Britons to ski, while looking forward to encouraging millions more over the next centenary. The winter of 2004-05 saw an overhaul of the website allowing it to hit the one million unique visitors a year mark. At this time Ski Club Holidays was rebranded as Ski Freshtracks. 2006 then witnessed the launch of Ski Club TV, the first dedicated snowsports internet TV channel. Today, the Ski Club's video content is hosted on its YouTube channel.

2010s

Council and management agreed a 5-year plan, creating a purpose, mission, value and commitments in 2014. This brought our original objectives set in 1903 up-to-date, and the Ski Club’s unique heritage to life.

Purpose

To promote and protect, enjoyable and inspiring and safe snowsports experiences.

Mission 2014-19

To become more relevant to more snowports enthusiasts in order to become more representative and influential.

Vision

A lifetime of great experiences for anyone who love snow.

Values:

  • Inclusivity
  • Integrity
  • Inspiration
  • Responsibility

Commitments:

  • Be the welcoming club that all snowsports enthusiasts want to be part of
  • Be the independent & trusted voice of, and for, the snowsports enthusiast
  • Encourage and support new and inspiring snowsports experiences for everyone
  • Promote and help all abilities progress in their snowsports development