(Adams, Mass.) On the morning of March 1, more than 100 intrepid backcountry skiers and snowboarders will make the two-hour heart-pounding trek to the top of Mount Greylock, southern New England’s tallest peak. They’ll strap on their equipment, take a few deep breaths and then launch into the blistering three-minute run down the narrow, steep and unpredictable Thunderbolt Ski Trail. Race Director, Blair Mahar, expressed optimism earlier this week in light of the recent weather, “after having to cancel this race two years in a row due to lack of snow, the race committee is encouraged and excited by this winter’s cold temperatures and recent snowfall.”
Admission is free for everyone who wishes to watch the race from Greylock Glen at the foot of the mountain in Adams, Massachusetts. After the race, the third annual ThunderFest will offer food from a variety of great local vendors, local craft beer from Wandering Star Brewery and live music outdoors at the Visitors Center in downtown Adams. Admission to ThunderFest is free and open to all, regardless of attendance at the race.
“The Thunderbolt and ThunderFest have become signature events for our community,” says Jonathan Butler, Adams Town Administrator. “The community has been successful in becoming a more prominent hub for recreational activity in the Berkshires. March 1 is a great opportunity for visitor’s to come and check out what we’re all about here in Adams.”
The Thunderbolt Ski Trail was originally cleared down the precipitous east slope of Mount Greylock in the 1930s as a public works project of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It quickly became known for the annual world-class race that attracted top skiers from across the country and Europe. The fastest known time down the trail is 2 minutes, 8.6 seconds, set by Norwegian Olympian, Per Klippgen in 1948. Modern racers compete in seven total categories: Alpine, Telemark, Snowboard, Women’s Overall, The Ascent, and both King and Queen of the Mountain for fastest overall combined time up and down the mountain. The most recent King of the Mountain is Jonathan Schefftz with a total time of 53 minutes, 16 seconds set in 2011. “It’s going to be an exciting day of racing on Mt. Greylock. The 2010 King of the Mountain, Patrick Rondeau, is returning to try to reclaim his title. The 2010 and 2011 overall race winner, Gery Benedetti, is signed up and ready to see if he can win it for the third time,” said Mahar. The race is 1.6 miles long with a vertical drop of 2,050 feet and grades as steep as 35 degrees. Registration will remain open for until February 15. Visit thunderboltskirunners.org and facebook.com/ThunderFestAdams for further details.
Parking at the mountain will be very limited and spectators are recommended to take the free shuttles from Hoosac Street, Adams, which will begin running loops at 9:00 AM. A hike of about 30 minutes is required to reach the finish line. The race will conclude entirely by 2 p.m. The Thunderbolt Ski Race relies on natural snow, and there is no “snow date” this year. In the event that the race cannot be held due to lack of snow, the Thunderbolt Ski Runners will still host a smaller event up on the mountain and visitors to Town will still be encouraged to attend the downtown celebration.
ThunderFest will be held from noon to 5 p.m. outdoors at the Adams Visitors Center on Hoosac Street in Adams. The festival also has no admission charge and will feature two live bands, hot local food, craft beer from Wandering Star Brewery and hot beverages, a chowder cook-off, kids’ activities and a toasty campfire. This year’s event will also feature the post-race awards ceremony for the first time in downtown Adams, offering the public an opportunity to see the faces behind the helmets of this year’s most successful racers. Music will open with Chris Kleeman, a high-energy blues singer and guitar virtuoso that B.B. King called “A bad-ass guitar player.” Rebel Alliance will follow with the rock and reggae grooves and jams that won them the New England Battle of the Bands last year at the Hard Rock Café at Foxwoods. Even with the campfire, the public is encouraged to dress appropriately for both outdoor events.
With the advent of ski areas, the Thunderbolt trail fell into disrepair after World War 2 until 2008 when the Thunderbolt Ski Runners, a group of backcountry ski and snowboard enthusiasts, took it on themselves to restore the historic ski run and revive the race. In 2013, the Ski Runners opened the Thunderbolt Ski Museum at the Adams Visitors Center. The museum features artifacts and informational displays about the history of the trail, its many world-class competitions and the colorful characters and stories from its early days.