Atlanta — The novice skied backward up the slope. Instructor Ray Shackelford watched him finish another downhill run - and again ski up the slope. Mr. Shackelford was instructing on a 20-foot run of rotating white carpet in a sporting-goods store. The carpet rolls upward, while skiers zigzag down it. Then, by assuming a V position with the skis, skiers are carried up the slope by the carpet and start down again.
In Atlanta, it was just another typical, snowless winter day in the South, where ski interest is booming.
Oshman's, a Texas-based sporting-goods chain, uses such indoor slopes to help promote the sale of ski equipment. But judging from the activity of Southern ski clubs, not much promotion is needed.
''It seems the farther away from the resort, the bigger the ski club,'' says Lee Angel of the United States Ski Association. The three largest clubs in the US, he says, are in Atlanta, Washington, and Miami.
Many cities have more than one club. Los Angeles has more than 90, he says. Use of carpet slopes is fairly common, he adds.
Atlanta has a Yellow Pages listing of more than a dozen ski-equipment stores. Its large and active ski club has some 4,500 members, including children. The club sends skiers on cut-rate trips to Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and on weekend trips to North Carolina.
From Texas, where 14 ski clubs representing some 15,000 members belong to a statewide ski council, there are frequent trips to Aspen and Vail, Colo., where many Texas families have long owned condominiums.
While the extent of Southern ski activity may surprise Northerners, it sometimes surprises even Southerners. Houston Ski Club president John Dennis went to ski in Austria last year with some 30 Texans, and says he was astonished to find skiers from Atlanta and ''cities and towns all around the South.''
There also are ski clubs in such cities as Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla., Huntsville, Ala., Nashville, Tenn., and New Orleans, to name a few, says Phillip Ozell, a ski instructor this season for Atlanta's club.
Some Southerners learned to ski while living in Northern cities. Others, like Mr. Ozell, grew up in the South. He began skiing while he was a student at the University of Florida, and chose Atlanta as a home partially because of the active ski club here.
At a recent meeting of the Atlanta Ski Club in a hotel here, Frank Bost explained that ''a lot of the club is social.'' Several couples, now married, first met at club outings. Some members don't even go on ski trips, preferring instead the club's other activities - the rafting, scuba diving, hiking, or the parties.
For others, like native Atlantan Debbie Seidel, skiing is still the favorite sport. She lives part of the year in Colorado, where she especially enjoys ski racing.
Meanwhile, there is still some confusion over Southern skiing clubs.
''I get all the water-ski phone calls,'' says a staff member at the Atlanta Ski Club.