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History of the Holmdel Ski Club

Alexander Graham BellIn 1962, on 472-acres of beautiful grounds in Holmdel NJ, Bell Laboratories, the research and development arm of the 100-year-old American Telephone and Telegraph company, built a large 1 million square foot glass building and transistor shaped water tower.   The building was designed and built by Eero Saarinen,  the same person that designed the Gateway Arch in St Louis.  The plan was to make the new Holmdel facility the premier research facility for AT&T and required the hiring of a lot of engineers and scientists.   To retain these people, the Labs decided to create a variety of company-sponsored recreational activities for their employees.    Rumor has it that the Holmdel Ski Club started soon after the Holmdel building opened.  Information about the early days of the Club is sketchy.  (If anyone has more details, please send email).    In the early 80's, Bell Labs doubled the size of the Holmdel building and again needed to hire thousands of engineers.   This is where the history of the Club becomes more tangible because some of those new hires are still members of the Club.  The hiring rate in the early 80's was astounding.   On the day that this author joined AT&T in June of 1981, there were 485 other new hires standing in line at the front door of the massive 1.9 million square foot Holmdel glass facility that housed 6,000 engineers and scientists.  The best and the brightest minds worked at this facility.   PhD's and Nobel prize winners walked the cavernous hallways - quite intimidating for all the college new hires.  These new hires needed somewhere to go to relax.   One favorite pastime was attempting to be in the 100-club.   This required the participant to accelerate their car to 100mph between the transistor-shaped water tower (also designed and built by Eero Saarinen, ) and the pond in front of the building.  The start and end of the course contained 90 degree turns, so the event required lots of horsepower and strong brakes.   Life was good.   Life was fun.   The Labs provided seed money to dozens of Corporate sponsored clubs.   And so begins the history of the Holmdel Ski Club.   Before the age of Internet reservations, it was quite challenging to arrange hotel, lift, airfare, and bus transportation to far away places.  Three  AT&T clubs seemed to gather the lions share of interest by the new hires:  The Ski Club, the Softball Club, and the Adventure Flying Club.  Membership in these clubs was restricted to AT&T employees since AT&T was funding the administrative operations of the clubs.   However, employees could bring guests along so the only real requirement is that you had to know somebody that worked for AT&T.   Back then, 1 million people worked for AT&T, so not a problem.   By the end of the 1980's the Holmdel Ski Club had about 1,100 members, which included employees from facilities throughout New Jersey.  The Club ran about 15 trips a year, 1 out west, 1 to Europe, 1 learn-to-ski weekend, and the rest being weekend trips to New England.  Every trip filled to capacity and had a waiting list.   The Holmdel Ski Club was an excellent place for singles to meet each other.   Many relationships began with Club introductions. On the long bus rides to the New England ski resorts, the differences in employee level was gone.   Newly hired employees would sit next to Nobel prize winners.    Conversations were probably way more scientific than those of other ski club bus trips, but that was par for the course in the Labs.   I once asked an experienced skier about how to ski moguls.   The response included graph paper and mention of sine waves.  You gotta love it.   You would go to work and at the end of the day, the ski bus would be waiting for you outside.   Life was good.   Life was really fun.

During the 80's and 90's, AT&T went through lots of changes in names and culture.  The company split into various sub-companies.  Bell Lab's management started changing from scientists to business people.  The allure of Bell Labs as a mecca for college hires started to decline.  The Internet boom attracted college graduates to Silicon Valley.   AT&T no longer provided financial support to the clubs.     The clubs could still use the physical facilities of AT&T to conduct their business but each club had to be financially self-sustaining.    The Ski Club members were getting older, getting married, and having children.   AT&T had significant reductions in employment levels.   Early retirement incentives encouraged many members to leave AT&T and move away from central New Jersey.  

By 2003, the number of members in the Holmdel Ski Club had dropped to about 500.   The number of ski trips that could be sustained by the membership was reduced to 4 to 6 per year.    By 2007, the trip schedule was reduced to two weekend trips and one week-long trip. By 2010 we had only 1 bus trip on Martin Luther King weekend, and two airline-based trips out west or to Europe.   By 2018, the prevalence of Ikon and Epic season passes changed the group lift ticket rates (mountains no longer sold heavily discounted group lift tickets, in order to instead encourage season pass purchase) such that our bus trips to New England destinations were no longer cost effective. The Holmdel Ski Club's trips now focused on airline-based trips to luxurious and fun destinations, including all-inclusive Club Med European resorts and the large resorts in the Western US.

As of this writing, in May 2020, the famous Bell Labs building in Holmdel has been converted to a business park, Bell Works, with about 100 companies occupying the building, plus a library, food court, and various shops. A significant number of the ski club members are retired and now live across the United States.  

[page last updated: 04/28/2024 ]


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