Stepping onto the ice at Ashland's outdoor rink, Pat Fuhrman and Kathy Harvey each experience a homecoming of sorts.

Stepping onto the ice at Ashland's outdoor rink, Pat Fuhrman and Kathy Harvey each experience a homecoming of sorts.

Harvey, 60, donned ice skates for the first time in more than 40 years following a childhood spent skating in her native Nebraska.

Fuhrman, 63, planned the outing just a few months after rejoining a singles group she helped initiate two decades ago. It's the first ice-skating event in several years for members of Slopes and Trails, a club that brings people together in the outdoors.

"I think I got the hang of it now," Harvey says, shakily twirling in a circle.

"Ah, don't go in front of me!" Fuhrman exclaims as a towering teen passes her.

Neither Fuhrman nor Harvey regret being the sole Slopes and Trails participants willing to take a wintertime spin on Ashland's Rotary Centennial Ice Rink. They have plenty of support just over the short wall, where a half-dozen other members — most of them women — look on.

"I've never had a pair of ice skates on in my life," says Mary Johnson, the club's activities coordinator.

Preferring to snowshoe and cross-country ski, the 65-year-old Grants Pass resident says she wanted to try ice skating but feared a fall would mar a vacation she planned with fellow Slopes and Trails member Joan Jackson-Staum. Since Johnson joined in 2003, she and longtime member Jackson-Staum, 70, struck up a relationship that's outlasted most attachments between club members of the opposite sex.

"I have met some of the most awesome women in this club who have become lifelong friends," Johnson says. "It is a singles group, but it's more of an activities group than a dating group."

"Single people who want to do activities don't want to do it alone," adds Jackson-Staum.

That philosophy was the impetus for Slopes and Trails, conceived 20 years ago by patrons of Buoys and Gulls. Operated by a woman who brought the business from California, Fuhrman recalls, Buoys and Gulls charged single men and women a fee to go on its outings. On a springtime hike, Fuhrman, along with a half-dozen other participants, decided they wanted to plan their own trips — for free, if possible.

That summer, the fledging group borrowed bylaws from a similar Portland-based club, called Bergfreunde or "Mountain Friends." The name indicating an emphasis on hiking and skiing, Slopes and Trails expanded its scope into just about every outdoor realm, Fuhrman says.

"We did everything," she says. "We climbed Mount McLoughlin. We put in permits to raft the Rogue River, and we did that.

"I went hang-gliding," she adds. "It was every weekend just loaded with activities; it was just go, go, go."

The hectic pace filled Fuhrman's weekends for five years before she left Ashland for teaching positions in Taiwan, Portland, Salem and the Philippines. When she decided to move back to Ashland, Fuhrman searched for Slopes and Trails online, easily locating its Web site, www.slopes.org. She joined immediately. Annual dues are $30.

"I was so glad it was still going," Fuhrman says. "It's obviously still a need if it's lasted for 20 years."

Fuhrman found the group's focus had expanded somewhat, including indoor events such as dancing, dinners and card-playing. She attributes the slowdown to members' advancing age, yet the club remains 200 strong, about 75 of whom are men, and welcomes younger members.

"I think for older people like us ... it's really our network and our family," Fuhrman says.

Johnson and Jackson-Staum agree, although the latter married five years ago after meeting her husband-to-be at a Slopes and Trails event. Jackson-Staum's relationship with 75-year-old Dwayne Staum ended 31 years of single life, but not her involvement in the club that started it all.

"I had no plans for marriage; it just happened," she says.

The Staums, of Jacksonville, number among 13 or so Slopes couples to marry within the past few years. Even married, they are allowed to retain membership in the group and occasionally open their homes for fundraising dinners and private gatherings.

Open to anyone, the club's weekly "TGIF" social hour is where most new members test the waters of Slopes and Trails. Harvey jumped in with both feet late last year after moving to Eagle Point from Tampa, Fla., and hearing about the group through the online dating site, Match.com.

"I loved it, and I joined that night — never miss an event," Harvey says.

Her enthusiasm coaxed fellow Slopes member and Eagle Point resident Ken Tanaka to the ice rink, despite his distaste for winter sports. Tanaka, 62, watched Harvey negotiate the ice for 20 minutes before suggesting the next stop on their date.

"Maybe sushi," Tanaka says.

"That's on your own," Harvey replies. "I'm from Nebraska; I don't eat raw fish."

Contact Mail Tribune Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or slemon@mailtribune.com