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A Legend in the Snow

Schussing down Mount Greylock’s Thunderbolt Trail



What do Nazi ski racers, J.K. Rowling’s wizards, Herman Melville, 10th Mountain Division heroes, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and one of America’s iconic ski races have in common? 

The answer lies atop Mount Greylock, the modest Massachusetts high point. 

At 3,491 feet, the Berkshire peak is a middling mountain, ranked 31st on a list of America’s state high points. Still, even with mountains, size isn’t everything. Story matters, too. Melville lived at the base of Greylock and dedicated his seventh novel to the mountain. More recently, J.K. Rowling chose the weather-beaten summit as the site of America’s leading school of wizardry—although it is protected by spells, so visitors searching for it have had no luck thus far. 

For skiers, it is the real-life legends that capture the imagination. Greylock’s Thunderbolt Trail is one of the East’s iconic backcountry ski experiences, different than, but on a par with famed Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire. Built by the Depression-era CCC 107th Company, the Thunderbolt was designed as a world-class downhill course, but it also became a classic New England backcountry experience, where skiers trek uphill using “skins” (lengths of fabric that keep skis from sliding back down as they go uphill), then ski down on natural, ungroomed snow. 

Famed and fêted in the 1930s, the trail and its eponymous race turned the town of Adams into a “little Switzerland,” complete with snow sports shops and a ski train that brought thousands of spectators from New York. Local Thunderbolt skiers competed in what was then the new Olympic sport of downhill skiing, and Adams sent more skier-soldiers to fight in World War II with the famed 10th Mountain Division than any other city in the country. 

Before even getting to the Alps, the Berkshire boys had already faced off against a handful of Nazis—on the slopes of the Thunderbolt. In 1938, the German government, hoping to demonstrate Aryan superiority, sent a team of college ski racers to the famed American race. Archival footage shows them wearing their swastikas—and winning. The German students might have won the Battle of the Thunderbolt, but the 10th Mountain troops were on the winning side of the war. Ironically, many returning 10th Mountain skier-soldiers became pioneers of the new lift-served downhill ski industry, which pushed backcountry skiing into near oblivion. The Thunderbolt was abandoned and fell into disrepair.  

Then, in the 1990s, the trail was rediscovered. Blair Mahar, an outdoorsman and Hoosac Valley High School biology teacher, recalls his  fascination with the history in his backyard. “It wasn’t only that the trail was so important to the history of skiing,” he says. “Some of the people who made that history were still around.” Determined to preserve the stories, he enlisted students to make an award-winning documentary Purple Mountain Majesty. The 1999 film combines oral histories from Thunderbolt pioneers with archival film and photographs. Old equipment, artifacts, and footage also are on display at the Thunderbolt Museum in Adams. 

One of Mahar’s students was Josh Chittenden, manager of Berkshire Outfitter in Adams and board member of the Thunderbolt Ski Runners, which preserves and maintains the trail. The renewed interest led to resurrecting the race, using the course from the 1930s, he says. 

“There were so many questions,” recalls Chittenden. “How do we even get started? What about things like insurance, which the early racers probably never considered. Was it even possible?” 

Ultimately, he took the plunge as race course director for what would become the 75th anniversary race in 2010 and set to work reclaiming the trail and clearing it of the most dangerous obstructions. Volunteers included 40 ski patrollers and 40 civilians managing everything from timing to registration to the pre-race dinner. But all the clearing in the world can’t tame this trail. East Coast skiers take pride in skiing on mud-splattered slush, weaving through trees, and dodging rocks and roots—the Thunderbolt serves all of those up.

“It’s an intermediate trail with expert conditions,” says Steve Sauve, a member of the board of the Thunderbolt Ski Runners. He might be understating the difficulty. The United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association (a precursor to the United States Ski and Snowboard Association, now the U.S. Ski & Snowboard) rated it an “Expert Class A Trail.” Typically resorts put out double-black diamond signs (experts only) when the slope is around 30 degrees. The Thunderbolt tops out at 35 degrees, and some of those sections have trees left, right, and center, rocks and roots underfoot, and tight turns. The trail runs 1.4 miles with a vertical drop of 2,050 feet—and there’s no road or lift to the top; you earn your turns, every last one of them. 

“It takes two to three hours for newbies to go up, 45 minutes for the top guys,” says Crittenden. All that sweat earns a sweet four to six minute run down. Remarkably, years back, skiers on seven-foot-long wooden boards did the same.  

The modern incarnation of the race is a project in flux. Since 2010, it has been planned as an annual event, with “king and queen of the mountain” honors going to the competitors with the fastest times. But winters aren’t what they used to be, and the race has been canceled due to lack of snow about as often as it has been held. So the Thunderbolt Ski Runners are giving the race a break. “It takes as much effort to plan it and not do it as it does to plan it and do it,” Crittenden says, “and that is dispiriting. We might pick up doing the race again once every few years.” 

In the meantime, the race survives in a new incarnation as “The Bolt,” a part of the New England Rando Race series, sanctioned by the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association. The course is not for the faint of heart: three laps of climbing and descending Mount Greylock via skinning, hiking, and skiing. Last year’s warm and snowless February forced the race to move to Berkshire East, where a hardcore group of racers skied an alternate course of three laps up and down. It’s back on schedule for February 23 on Mount Greylock; the back-up location is the Catamount Ski Area.  

Members of the Thunderbolt Trail Runners continue to maintain the trail, making it available to the public whenever the snow is deep enough. Of the four Class A trails built by the CCC in New England—the Taft Trail, Nose Dive, Wildcat, and Thunderbolt—only the Thunderbolt exists as it did in the 1930s, when it was described by national downhill champion Joseph H. Duncan from Colorado “undoubtedly the most thrilling wooded run yet built in the country, it beats anything in the Rockies.” On a deep-powder weekend, expect hundreds of skiers trudging up to schuss down in the tracks of history.

 

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Telephone: 203-984-8329
Contact Name: Karen
Website »

More information

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Hartford Boat Show (HBS50) features the newest boats on the market including center consoles, fishing boats, luxury cruisers, deck and pontoon boats, sport and...

Cost: $12 in advance online, $14 at the door, $10 Senior/Military one day pass

Where:
Expo Center at Mohegan Sun
1 Mohegan Sun Blvd
Uncasville, CT  06382
View map »


Sponsor: Connecticut Marine Trades Association
Telephone: 860-767-2645
Contact Name: Kathleen Burns
Website »

More information

Dr. Dan Villiers, co-founder of the Anxiety Institute in Greenwich, Conn., will give a free talk titled In the Trenches: Family Impact and Parenting Strategies for Anxiety and OCD. Dr....

Cost: 0

Where:
Greenwich Town Hall
101 Field Point Road
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: NAMI Southwest CT
Telephone: 203-400-6264
Contact Name: Karen West
Website »

More information

Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Robert Kalm discusses his documentary Self Make: The American Dreams of Philip Musica, about the notorious swindler Doctor Frank Donald Coster, also known as Philip Musica, who was a respected...

Cost: Members: Free; Non-Members: $5

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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More information

The Maritime Garage Gallery’s latest exhibit features works inspired by art in public places. “Street Level ” brings to life the notion that public art can transforms...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Simon Russell Beale returns to National Theatre Live screens following broadcasts of Timon of Athens and King Lear, and his recent role in the National Theatre’s critically acclaimed...

Cost: See Website

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge Road
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Telephone: 203-438-5795
Website »

More information

Join New Morning Market’s new knitting club! We’re crafting wearable items for Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury and welcome all levels to join! Instructors will be on-hand for beginners. Yarn,...

Cost: Free - registration requested

Where:
New Morning Market
129 Main St North
Woodbury, CT  06798
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Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
Website »

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Blending nature and spirituality, Connecticut artist Lori Barker explores the rhythms of life in a new collection of mixed media works on display at the Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
Washington, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

More information

Idea exchange and brainstorming for entrepreneurs.  Sign up at www.martinhosueworkspace.com/event-listings.

Cost: no charge with one-day pass or membership

Where:
Martin House Workspace
69 Westchester Avenue
Pound Ridge, NY  10576
View map »


Sponsor: Martin House Workspace
Telephone: 914-764-3128
Contact Name: Erin Trostle
Website »

More information

The Bruce Museum is organizing an exhibition of small artworks created entirely by the public for the public. We invite art lovers of all ages, interests, and abilities to submit a depiction of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

Zachary Zaitzeff is a painter living in the Hudson Valley who has incorporated his extensive world travel, including his 2011 summit of Mount Everest, into his artwork. Zachary spent 2018 studying...

Cost: free

Where:
RT Facts Gallery
8 Old Barns Rd
Kent, CT  06757
View map »


Sponsor: RT Facts
Telephone: 860-927-1700
Contact Name: Natalie Randall
Website »

More information

The Maritime Garage Gallery’s latest exhibit features works inspired by art in public places. “Street Level ” brings to life the notion that public art can transforms...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Hartford Boat Show (HBS50) features the newest boats on the market including center consoles, fishing boats, luxury cruisers, deck and pontoon boats, sport and...

Cost: $12 in advance online, $14 at the door, $10 Senior/Military one day pass

Where:
Expo Center at Mohegan Sun
1 Mohegan Sun Blvd
Uncasville, CT  06382
View map »


Sponsor: Connecticut Marine Trades Association
Telephone: 860-767-2645
Contact Name: Kathleen Burns
Website »

More information

January Swing Dance w/ Chops, Sauerkraut, Krewtons Friday, January 18, 2018 Dewey Hall, 91 Main Street, Sheffield, MA 01257 Doors open at 7:30, Lesson with Jason Fenton at 8:00, Live music at...

Cost: $10-$20 sliding fee scale

Where:
Dewey Hall
91 Main Street
Sheffield, MA  01257
View map »


Sponsor: Oldtone Productions
Telephone: 413-429-1176
Contact Name: Beth Carlson
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Do you have a startup you’re trying to get off the ground? Are you thinking about starting your own business? Are you a solopreneur who’s trying to do it all? Everyone needs a...

Cost: no charge with one-day pass or membership

Where:
Martin House Workspace
69 Westchester Avenue
Pound Ridge, NY  10576
View map »


Sponsor: Martin House Workspace
Telephone: 914-764-3128
Contact Name: Erin Trostle

More information

The much anticipated Great Trains Holiday Exhibit at the Wilton Historical Society opens the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 23, with Santa visiting on December 8! Decorated for the...

Cost: Members free, Non-member adults $10/ kids $5.

Where:
Wilton Historical Society
224 Danbury Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »

More information

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Blending nature and spirituality, Connecticut artist Lori Barker explores the rhythms of life in a new collection of mixed media works on display at the Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
Washington, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

More information

We invite you to join us at Dojo Fairfield on Saturday January 19, 2019 when we host the founder/CEO of C.O.B.R.A. Self-Defense, Chris Sutton, for a one-day self-defense/ASRP (Active Shooter...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
DOJO FAIRFIELD
2317 Black Rock Tpke.
FAIRFIELD, CT  06825
View map »


Sponsor: DOJO FAIRFIELD
Telephone: 203.319.9989
Contact Name: Karina Gramesty
Website »

More information

Caring for a loved one with a mental health condition can be overwhelming and stressful. Family-to-Family is a free, 12-session education program for family, friends and significant others...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Greenwich Hospital
5 Perryridge Road
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: NAMI Southwest CT
Telephone: (914) 527-2994
Contact Name: Janet
Website »

More information

Celebrate Helena Hernmarck’s materials and processes at our monthly free admission day. Work with teaching artists and Museum staff on warm wintery projects while enjoying hot cocoa and seasonal...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

The much anticipated Great Trains Holiday Exhibit at the Wilton Historical Society opens the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, November 23, with Santa visiting on December 8! Decorated for the...

Cost: Members free, Non-member adults $10/ kids $5.

Where:
Wilton Historical Society
224 Danbury Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »

More information

The Bruce Museum is organizing an exhibition of small artworks created entirely by the public for the public. We invite art lovers of all ages, interests, and abilities to submit a depiction of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Hartford Boat Show (HBS50) features the newest boats on the market including center consoles, fishing boats, luxury cruisers, deck and pontoon boats, sport and...

Cost: $12 in advance online, $14 at the door, $10 Senior/Military one day pass

Where:
Expo Center at Mohegan Sun
1 Mohegan Sun Blvd
Uncasville, CT  06382
View map »


Sponsor: Connecticut Marine Trades Association
Telephone: 860-767-2645
Contact Name: Kathleen Burns
Website »

More information

Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Zachary Zaitzeff is a painter living in the Hudson Valley who has incorporated his extensive world travel, including his 2011 summit of Mount Everest, into his artwork. Zachary spent 2018 studying...

Cost: free

Where:
RT Facts Gallery
8 Old Barns Rd
Kent, CT  06757
View map »


Sponsor: RT Facts
Telephone: 860-927-1700
Contact Name: Natalie Randall
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Type 2 diabetes is becoming an epidemic. Dr. Shawn Carney, a naturopathic physician at Northeast Natural Medicine, LLC, will address the development of problems with blood sugar control. He will...

Cost: Free - registration requested

Where:
New Morning Market
129 Main St North
Woodbury, CT  06798
View map »


Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
Website »

More information

Join artists and crafters Amelia McIsaac of Flowering Heart and Susannah White of Carapace Farm Puppetry to explore the process of felting. Work with plant-dyed wool from their small family flock...

Cost: $15; $13.50 member

Where:
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn some basics of a simple honest cuisine created by thousands of years of heritage, shared culture and a bit of Viking pillaging.Menu:Demo: Gravlax from Scratch, served with Mustard Dill Sauce...

Cost: 100.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
View map »


Telephone: 860-355-0300
Website »

More information

Comedian, actor, and impressionist Frank Caliendo has been making people laugh his entire life.  He is well known for his impressions of famous personalities: Donald Trump, Morgan Freeman, Al...

Cost: See Website

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge Road
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Telephone: 203-438-5795
Website »

More information

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