SKI CLUB OF WASHINGTON

Despite its name, the club's headquarters are across the river, at 933 North Kenmore Street in Arlington (Suite 401). Its hotline recording is 527-1802.

SATURDAY NIGHT in the third-floor bar at a ski resort in southwestern Pennsylvania. A tiny dance floor and a loud rock band. In the darkness men from places like Pittsburgh and Youngstown stand about in their boots, jeans and the mandatory cowboy hat. The men with the hats have just returned from, or wish to appear to have just returned from Vail, where a cowboy hat is part of the uniform.

Women wearing close-fitting white bib ski suits sit on cowboy laps or with one leg thrown over a chair arm. There is an air of expectation. Mr. or Ms. Right might yet appear before the bar closes.

Forty-seven members of the Ski Club of Washington had arrived at Seven Springs late the previous night. They had come to ski, they said. And ski they had, all day, in temperatures averaging seven degrees, on slopes spotted with ice. After a day of skiing, a free cocktail party, an abundant buffet dinner and a subdued party in a club member's room, most went to bed. Sunday would be another day of skiing, and there was a race scheduled.

Just before 2 a.m. the Rave Revue goes into an energetic version of "YMCA" and the lead singer yells into the microphone, "Hey, everybody, it's animal time! Take it off!" The band plays. The singer pulls off his slacks, revealing boxer shorts and high white socks with a green stripe. Several men take off their slacks and underpants. One man lets his briefs fall to his ankles and dances in short hopping steps.

"Now this is a swinging party," somebody says.

"Okay girls, take it off," urges the singer. "Any girl who strips on the top gets a free bottle of wine." No "girls" take up the offer.

The men have the floor to themselves. They dance, alone and in groups. After a while some fall to the floor in imitation of the alligator dance in "Animal House." Couples who had crowded the floor earlier, dancing to favorites from the 50s and 60s, stand by and stare.

Three Seven Springs cops arrive in full gray uniform, guns on hips, mouths set in tight lines beneath Smokey the Bear hats.

The air sighs from the balloon... the party is over. The lights come up and men and women get a clearer look at their companions. There are some faint expressions of surprise, but none of delight.

"Hey, I'm trying to fall in love," says one man to a buddy. The woman on his lap gets up and leaves.

There have been few members of the Washington club present at -- and none involved in -- the bar scene. Tom O'Brien, the trip leader, patiently explained: "We are not a singles group. We are an activityoriented group that just happens to be 80 percent single."

The club, founded in 1936, now claims more than 5,000 members from Washington, Maryland and Virginia. According to a number of those who went on the Seven Springs trip, wild singles weekends are the ones that happened last year when you weren't there or will happen next weekend when you have to work. The myth outlives the fact. But of course one person's wild weekend is another's yawner.

Who were these single men and women who chose to travel 190 miles in a chartered bus to spend a weekend at a resort hotel?

They were all white, mostly middle-aged, middle-income people with the exception of five children and a few women in their 20s. Among them were four teachers, three computer programmers, two dental assistants and a dentist, an investment broker, a geographer, a marine biologist, an electrical engineer, a systems analyst, a hairdresser, a bookkeeper, a draftsman, a lawyer and a psychiatrist.

On the bus they discussed skiing, ski trips, ski resorts, ski equipment, the ski club, the weather, and other sports. The children slept. No one was heard to discuss Carter, Iran or the farmers on the Mall. Even in the physical closeness of the bus they seemed more a crowd than a group.

At an impromptu cocktail party held Saturday night in Room 424, a dozen club members sat awkwardly on the two double beds. Eva Katz, a ballet teacher, announced that it was time for a picture and would everybody please get together in a group on one bed. There were giggles but all dutifully sat body to body. Katz got up on a chair and asked everyone to smile.

All turned toward the small box camera and blinked at the flash cube. Except for some extra years and some extra pounds, the group would have made the picture from the high-school slumber party. It may or may not have been much fun, but at least everybody had a picture to show around school.

Club members seem anxious to dispel the popular notion that it is a singles social set. O'Brien, who is membership chairman, said the club "offers a place for people to make new friends in a nonthreatening situation. We are activity-oriented. In a singles bar, you feel like you're in a meat market. Here people concentrate on the skiing or the tennis. The social part is secondary, and that makes it easy for people to fit in. We have a big turnover of people who quit because they don't think we're social enough."

O'Brien had enough to do without worrying about the social side of the trip. He had spent about 30 hours on the telephone since November, accepting reservations, changing reservations and canceling reservations. He arranged for the bus, the rooms, the beer and wine and soft drinks, the pretzels, the lift tickets, the lessons, the meal tickets and the cocktail party while simultaneously looking after his three young daughters.

He did it all with the calmness of a laidback guru. He is so tireless and patient that members like to call him "Mother O'Brien."

Katz, a ballet teacher who joined the club 18 months ago, has her own thoughts about the heavy emphasis on activities. For the men, she says, "The skiing is a form of escape. They don't have to get involved with anyone because they're too busy skiing.

"I hear that complaint from the girls in the club. You go out with a club man and every weekend it's skiing or sailing or whatever. They all pursue their hobby. I'm in the club to meet people; if all I wanted to do was ski, I could ski alone."

Dennis Aanderud is a veteran of 10 club ski weekends, and prefers them to the Washington bar scene. "Single skiers and tennis players are a better class of people than the singles you meet in bars," he said. "I used to hang out in the singles bars in downtown Washington, but you know, you can buy a tennis racquet for what you drop in a bar in one night. I measure everything by tennis balls. One two-dollar drink equals a can of balls. Now, I'd rather buy the balls."

The bus was a little late leaving Seven Springs Sunday night. After a stop for some fast-fried chicken and the ritualistic passing of the wine jug along the aisle, people settled back to talk or nap.

Aanderud was surrounded by three young women, all teasing him about the weekend.

"Did you score, Dennis?" asked one.

"He scored zero," Aanderud's seatmate said. Much laughter. How did she know he scored zero? "Because," he said, jerking a thumb at her, "she was with me all weekend." Later, he said: "Now, you're not going to make me look like a playboy, are you?"

Those who went on the trip looking for good skiing seemed satisfied. Those seeking good food seemed satisfied. The few who said they went to meet people as well as ski probably were disappointed. For a club that exists to get people together through sports, the outing had had a singularly untogether atmosphere; the confines of the bus forced most of what personal contact there was.

"You know, I would have appreciated a club party last night," said Marcia Kimmel, a Fairfax teacher. "But some of the guys in our group are shy, I guess. But I enjoyed myself. I liked the skiing."

Mike Clark works hard running his own beauty shop. He joined the club to meet people, he said on the trip out. "I want to expand my social contacts. Everybody owes it to himself to get out and meet people. Before joining the club I mostly worked. I'd get in a rut. If I didn't plan these weekends ahead of time, I wouldn't be here." On the trip home, Clark said he'd had a good time doing his own thing. "I wanted to learn to ski better. If you tie up with somebody, that slows you down. I spent most of the time alone. I didn't meet anybody I wanted to spend time with."

As the empty bus pulled away from the Columbia Island Marina parking lot and the club members drove off in their cars, O'Brien was left struggling with a green trash can full of slush and leftover beer and soft drinks. His daughters were very tired, and so was he.

"Hey," he said. "Next week is the winter carnival weekend. We've got six buses going. Now that will be a party!"