When Lloyd Lambert started skiing in the early 1900s, there were no ski lifts , equipment was clumsy, and instructors were nonexistent except in Europe, where they carried the glorified title of ''masters.''
Lambert is 83 now, and he says skiing is better than ever. For one thing, he doesn't have to put ''skins'' on his skis so he can walk up the mountain in order to enjoy the pleasure of sliding down.
What he finds deplorable is that ''too many older people can't afford to ski after they retire.''
That's why he organized the 70-Plus Ski Club. In the fall of 1976 he wrote to 50 ski areas in the East asking if they'd offer reduced or free rates to active downhill skiers 70 and older. Thirty of them sent replies, and he was so encouraged by their response that in January he organized the club, thinking there would be maybe 20 or 30 members locally, centered around Hunter Mountain in New York, where he regularly skied. Now Lambert can scarcely believe his own success. Seven years later the 70-Plus Club has 1,200-plus members.
'Our membership is spread through 32 states, and we've got members in Canada, Australia, Austria, Germany, and France,'' he says. ''They're even organizing a chapter in Switzerland.''
Club members come from all walks of life, and once included the late news commentator Lowell Thomas, who was a long-time skiing companion of Lambert's.
Lambert says that things have reached the point where today he even has ski resorts writing to him asking to be part of the program by offering free skiing. ''They say they'd like to see more of the ski club's patches on their slopes to encourage anyone who might feel too old to ski anymore.''
A big day at Hunter Mountain is the first Wednesday in March. It has been declared Lloyd Lambert Day, and it's celebrated with a 70-Plus Club race. Each year more than 100 senior skiers vie for trophies in three categories: fastest skier, fastest woman skier, and fastest 80-year-old (there were 41 members in that category last year).
''Some of these old-timers have never raced before,'' Lambert says, ''but they sure put a lot of enthusiasm into running those gates. We've got some good sports in the 80-and-over racers. I suppose as time goes on we'll have to put up a trophy to satisfy those who are over 90 and still want to compete. Right now our oldest member is 96.''
Also included in the membership is an amputee who didn't start skiing on one ski until she was 66.
At the beginning of the 1982-83 ski season a camera crew from ''Real People'' came to Hunter Mountain to televise the races, creating a flurry of excitement and leaving behind some bibs advising the world that over-70 skiers are, indeed, real people.
When the old-timers get together, they have some interesting stories to tell about the early days of skiing. Victor Jensen, who came to America from Norway in 1920, says he was practicing his favorite sport of ski jumping in Prospect Park in Brooklyn when the police approached him and wanted to know what he was up to. ''When I explained ski jumping to them, they told me I'd have to get a permit if I wanted to jump there any more.''
Jensen is still an outstanding downhill skier at age 81.
From the beginning, Lambert and his wife have operated the club as a labor of love, donating their services. Excess money after expenses goes to the US Ski Team. Contributions to date have totaled more than $1,500.
''One thing that helps keep the club solvent is the donations we get from members who can afford to pay for their skiing, but want others to enjoy the sport - which has become out of reach for some,'' Lambert says. ''They send larger amounts - up to a hundred dollars in some instances - and that keeps us afloat.''
Next spring, the club is having an outing in Switzerland. An airplane has been chartered, and members will spend a week skiing and enjoying the hospitality of a hostelry in Engleberg. Package cost: $961 for the works.
Lambert is a busy man. He has established a ski museum at Hunter Mountain (some of the equipment was used in a recent Woody Allen filming); he's active in several ski clubs; and in the summer he inspects boats for the US Coast Guard and teaches navigation.
But none of his activities has given him more pleasure, he says, than his 70 -Plus Club, and the camaraderie that it's brought about.
Any active skier 70 or older may contact Lloyd Lambert, 104 East Side Drive, Ballston Lake, New York 12019, regarding membership. The lifetime fee is $5, and the applicant must supply his or her exact date of birth.