"It's like a smorgasbord," says Den Drumwright of the 25 or more ski clubs in Washington.

"I belong to three clubs so I can pick a little something of each and heap my plate full," explains the Blue Ridge Ski Council president and self-proclaimed "local guru of skiing."

Although Washington is certainly not Killington or Aspen, it has such a variety of clubs that one veteran down-hiller says it's like picking a fraternity or sorority: You choose the reputation you want.

Some clubs only ski, like the Potomac Valley Skiers. Others, ski first and then party. Or party first and then ski. But only the Fagowees try to party and ski at the same time.

"I don't want to ski with the Fagowees, but they sure know how to party," says 35-year old Drumwright, a ski patroller of 15 years and leader of the Ski Club of Washington's ski school. He met his wife at a Fagowees beach party.

"I've never met an embarrassed Fagowee," adds Drumwright, "and they're the only ski club I know banned from a whole country (Austria)."

Like many other ski clubs in town, the 700-member Fagowees began as a splinter group from the giant granddaddy of them all, the 5,400-member Ski Club of Washington, D.C. (SCWDC), which may be the largest ski club in the nation.

Fagowee founder and president Dutch Mueller, 46, a former ski-shop manager, broke away from SCWDC back in 1964, "because they were too staid in their attitude, but we'll do anything that's fun if it's legal and reasonably moral.

"And we still won the Washington Ski International Race two out of the last three years."

"Do you ski?" is surprisingly not the usual question at "ski clubs" like the Fagowees, SCWDC, or Black Ski, all of whom plan year-round sports and social activities for their predominantly single memberships.

Although SCWDC president Jane Hinton doesn't like to call her 85 percent single club "a social club," she does admit, "all the time, we see people join the club to do an activity, fall in love, get married, drop out some, get divorced, and come back to the club."

"After my divorce, I joined SCWDC because they played volleyball one block away from where my mother fed me once a week," confesses SCWDC membership chairman Tom O'Brien, who now leads week-long ski trips, taking his three daughters along. He had never skied before joining the club.

"It's a family substitute for many; some people get addicted to the club and they even quit work to volunteer," says Sam Meals, last year's SCWDC president, who met his wife through the club.

Started in 1936, the Ski Club of Washington, D.C., today has a million-dollar budget and one paid employee. It has the busiest calendar, with as many as three to four ski trips going at once (nine out West, several to Canada, and more than 40 on the East Coast), while still offering some other sport or social event almost every night.

Using hard-working volunteers in a well-oiled system of organization, the club serves as a model for others. A subculture itself, the club has one major problem: finding a room big enough for its meetings.

Some SCWDC members can remember when the club didn't allow unmarried couples to room together on ski trips. Today, you can choose your roommate and then read about it in the club's magazine gossip column, SKI-EAR.

SCWDC members like Tom O'Brien, a two-time Fagowee dropout, approve of the SCWDC's strict policy on illegal and obnoxious behavior.

"I was on a bus trip when someone was warned, and when he didn't stop what he was doing, he was put off the bus -- mid-trip," he recalls.

Others disagree.

"I was on a SCWDC bus trip and you could hear the dust roll across the floor," says Black Ski instructor Doug Webber, "but our bus trips are full of music and fun the whole way."

"We're the closest to the Fagowees," claims Webber of the almost exclusively black 560-member club.

"We have the spirit and we're not afraid of speed and attacking the mountain. You can hear us blowing whistles at fellow members and yelling "Tally-Ho.'"

Potomac Valley Skiers president Marilyn Clark vows, "We're the most contrasting to the Fagowees."

"We ski first and don't even try to look for nightlife," says the mother of two teen-age sons.

"We don't advertise and you must not only pass a skiing test to get in, but be sponsored, and be approved by the membership."

The 110-member club traditionally takes two, two-week European trips and one extended Western trip.

While Potomac Valley Skiers say they have almost no children as members, children is what the Sail and Ski Club of Washington is all about.

Calling itself, "not a club, but a convenience," the 300-family club was started five years ago by Elie Lombard to help her own children go skiing by themselves and with other families.

Fourth graders on up take off on school holidays with club chaperones to as far away as Aspen.

"They really aren't any trouble because they are so interested in skiing and after a long day, they just eat and crash," according to current Sail and Ski director Xandra Hemmes.

Two smaller clubs have devoted members just because they aren't big: Arlington Hall Ski Club and Fort Meade's Sun, Snow, and Surf (SSS). aAlthough military-based, both have few military members these days and are open to outside membership.

"Our members tend to know each other and a large percentage of the same people will be on all the trips," says Arlington Hall president Gary Koblitz, adding that most are single skiers who live in Arlington or Alexandria.

"At SSS, we're calmer than the Fagowees, but maybe that has to do with our jobs. We're friendly and we welcome newcomers," says president Barbara Murphy.

Two out-of-town clubs many Washingtonians join for wider ski-trip choices and new faces are the 500-member Crabtowne Skiers in Annapolis and the 1,400-member Baltimore Ski Club, a smaller version of the SCWDC.

Crabtowne president Elliott De Matteis claims, "We have the cheapest prices for trips and an active small-town atmosphere where everybody knows everybody."

Without scheduling more than one event at a time, the Crabtowners still boast an active year-round schedule with more sailing than any other club.

As veteran ski clubber Den Drumwright puts it, "Ski with Arlington Hall if you want to be on the slopes a half hour before the lifts open and ski all day. Go with SCWDC if you want to break for lunch and take a few afternoon runs and then a couple of drinks. And ski with the Fagowees if you don't mind getting to the slopes by mid-morning after having drinks on the bus coming UP the mountain, then drinking with your two-hour lunch, only to party all afternoon before partying all night."

And if you still can't choose which club personality is for you, mix and match according to the mood.

"I have the best of all worlds," says one bachelor and proficient skier who belongs to Crabtowne, SSS, and SCWDC.

"With these three clubs, I can choose where I want to ski and when, and also meet more people."