The announcement on the bus was made shortly before 7 a.m. and 87-year-old Marty Nellhaus wasn’t happy. Due to hazardous weather and road conditions, they would ski Loon Mountain that day instead of Wildcat Mountain, which is about 60 miles farther north.
Nellhaus was skeptical about the weather reports. The Swampscott resident, who last skied Tuckerman’s Ravine when he was 70, was looking forward to skiing Wildcat’s narrower trails while soaking in the grand views of Mount Washington.
Nellhaus is the oldest member of the Hickory Dickory Docs Ski Club, which has been day tripping it north on winter Wednesdays for more than 50 years. He had both knees replaced six years ago, still races, and often comes in first. His most recent win (in the over-76 division) was at Sunapee on Feb. 20. And although he didn’t make it to Wildcat on this day, he thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
“We all get along together, make jokes, ski, have lunch, and [end the day] with a couple of drinks. So it makes for a very enjoyable day,” Nellhaus said. “You come home and you feel ready to go again.”
The group’s bus leaves from the Putnam Pantry parking lot on Route 1 north in Danvers at about 7 a.m. every Wednesday for 10 weeks after Jan. 1.
The club got its name because it started with a group of doctors from north of Boston who could juggle their schedules to ski midweek. Now it includes people from all walks of life, including Beverly Mayor William F. Scanlon Jr., who joined this year.
“It’s been a great way to meet all sorts of people — doctors, firemen, plumbers, teachers,” said Rich Culliton, 77, a retired doctor from Swampscott who joined the club in the mid-’70s.
“It’s one of the nicest groups of people I’ve been associated with . . . and we don’t have a whole lot in common other than skiing,” he said, adding that he enjoys those differences.
There are other weekly ski groups that head north from Massachusetts but no one can think of another that’s been doing it for so long. Nothing is exact when it comes to the Hickory Dickory Docs. Depending on whom you ask, it started in the late 1950s or early ’60s; women were allowed to join sometime in the late ’90s; and there are about 25 members today.
What they agree on is that close friendships have been formed; club president Larry DeLorenzo, 61, of Beverly, does a great job coordinating the weekly trips, and it’s a good way to enjoy the winter rather than dread it.
“It’s a lousy winter if you don’t ski,” said Pat Marshall, 72, of Marblehead. She joined the second year women were allowed. When asked if she was nervous about joining what had been an all-male club, she said, “It was discussed. But everyone was so nice. They welcomed us.”
One reason women were welcomed was that enrollment was declining and the club needs about 25 members to make the numbers work. The club’s membership now includes about eight women, according to DeLorenzo, who works in his family’s business, the Danversport Yacht Club. He said the ages of the members range from 47 to 87 with most being in their 60s or 70s.
“We’re all young at heart here on the bus,” Marshall said.
Don Adelman, 82, a general contractor and real estate professional from Melrose, has been a member almost since the beginning. He tells a story of the first person he remembers organizing the bus, Louis Ranieri of Manchester-by-the-Sea. In 1993, when Ranieri was 80, he was on a trail at Mount Wachusett when he told fellow skiers, “I think this is going to be my last run,” Adelman said. Ranieri then fell, and died on the slope.
“He died happy and doing what he loved, so at his funeral we celebrated his life,” Adelman said. “It’s not just a ski club. It’s a family.”
Members proudly talk about the skiing prowess of another deceased member, John Yanakakis, who owned the Franklin Fruit Market in Lynn. Yanakakis was an original member of the US Army’s elite ski troop, the 10th Mountain Division, during World War II. Many members consider him to be the best skier the club ever had. He died in 2006 but skied nearly all his life, into his 80s, according to his son-in-law, Gerry Alexander of Lynnfield, who started skiing with the club 33 years ago.
Alexander, a 58-year-old engineer at Raytheon, said he takes vacation days so he can ski on Wednesdays. Finding people who are available to ski midweek is a challenge for the club, which is always looking for new members, according to George Ropes, 62, of Hamilton, who owns his own pest control company.
Malden resident Lenny Heitin, who would only give his age as “in my 70s,” said he was able to join the club back around 1975 because Wednesdays were “slow days” for his business. The owner of the Elmwood Pharmacy in Malden said jokingly that most doctors weren’t working on Wednesdays and therefore weren’t writing prescriptions. Cliff Scimone, 58, of Charlestown, was able to join the club 24 years ago because he owns his own appliance repair service. He calls himself an “appliance doctor,” and adds that his clients know not to call him on Wednesdays after Jan. 1.
Bill Anderson, 82, of Beverly, said he was able to join about 43 years ago because he worked at a marketing firm for newspapers. He had to work nights and weekends, so his boss let him take Wednesdays off. He retired when he was 66 but went to work a few years later at another company — after negotiating Wednesdays off.
“It’s been a great activity for me and one that is very, very important,” Anderson said. “It keeps you going.”
This is also a group that loves to laugh and often enjoys ribbing each other. On the ride home, before the movie started, club member Tony Ciruolo, 58, of Danvers, stood at the front of the bus and held up his cellphone — club president Larry DeLorenzo was on the line from Florida. “It’s Larry’s birthday,” Ciruolo, who owns Sam and Joe’s Restaurant in Danvers, announced. “Drinks are on Larry!” The bus cheered.
And then came a good-natured shout from the back of the bus: “Tell him he missed the best day of the year.”
Anyone interested in joining the ski club can call George Ropes at 978-468-3670. A $320 membership covers the bus trips. Members get a reduced group rate — and those over 80 usually get a free pass — at the slopes.