The last time I saw Greeny was the saddest. This was man I had to come to grow very fond of over the previous three years. During production of Purple Mountain Majesty, I interviewed him on film on two different occasions. I sat in his living room as a guest chatting with him about the Thunderbolt while his wife brought me cookies and milk. I learned about his life from his childhood in Adams to his days as a Boy Scout leader and finally to his golden years. At 83, he still had a boyish smile and a young man’s soul. Would we have been friends had I been born two generations earlier? I had grown very fond of Greeny. And now it was time to say good-bye.
Greeny with his first pair of skis
I knocked on the door not really knowing what to expect. I was a little nervous. He was an 83 old ski legend. I was a 29 year Thunderbolt neophyte. I was there to meet Greeny and interview him for the first time during production of Purple Mountain Majesty. Maurice “Greeny” Guertin answered the door and warmly welcomed me into his home as eager to meet me as I was to meet him. I was relieved and suddenly at ease. His nicely combed pure white hair accented his handsome features. As he showed me around his home and introduced me to his wife, I took notice of his permanent smile and a twinkle in his eye. We sat down in the living room and while his wife sat and watched T.V. quietly I explained to him what I was doing. He then spent the next hour filling my head with amazing stories of his days skiing and racing on the Thunderbolt.
Greeny (left) with buddies
As a history buff I was in awe. As an amateur film maker just starting production of a Thunderbolt documentary I wondered if I would ever be able to get him to tell those exact same stories on film. Instead of having him simply repeat everything he had just told me all over again on film that night, I decided to take a break and come back with the camera so it would feel more spontaneous. Greeny liked that idea and told me that he would retrieve his old pictures so I could film those as well. I said my thank you’s and walked out into the cold night air. From Greeny’s porch you can see Mt. Greylock. I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy and nostalgic about the man I had just met. The stories he shared about skiing on the Thunderbolt were priceless. I only hoped he shared the same ones when I returned with the camera.
The first interview, October 1998
On my next visit we got down to business. We conducted the interview for about an hour, and indeed, he told the same exact stories and he told them exactly the same way. The interview went great and I couldn’t have been happier. I turned the camera off and we chatted for a while “off the record.” He pulled about two dozen old black and white pictures out of a shoebox and we went through them one at a time; twenty-four pictures that served as a testament to his days skiing and racing on the Thunderbolt. I saw grainy images of a time six decades earlier when young men devoted every waking second to perfecting runs on one of the first Class A downhill ski trails in the country. He pointed out his brother, his buddies, and he showed me one picture of him and Rudy Konieczny both on crutches.
Rudy Konieczny and Greeny on crutches, always the daredevils
Greeny allowed me to take his pictures home and get them on film. He then pulled out something that just about took my breath away; his weathered and tattered Ski Runners of Adams patch. The Ski Runners of Adams were a bunch of hometown boys who formed a ski club and who eventually went on to beat Dartmouth College in the team event two years in a row. He showed me a picture of him wearing the patch on his jacket and he was proud to point out that above the patch he wore a Captain tab. As captain of the team it was his job to organize all of the comings and goings of the team during practice and on race day. He also said I could take the patch home and get it on film.
Captain of the Ski Runners of Adams
Within a few days of the interview I finally sat down and went through the pictures. I popped the VHS tape in my player and I was horrified to see a horizontal feedback line that ran through the entire screen and oscillated from top to bottom as the tape played. This would never do. I called Greeny and explained what happened and he graciously invited me back for a third interview. Just like the first and second, the interview was perfect. I got even better lighting conditions. But I think he was knapping just before I arrived because his normally well groomed hair was a little messed up. His wife told him to run a comb through it, but he didn’t care. He just smiled that permanent smile and got on with the interview. For the third time he told the same stories and in the exact same way. No details ever changed, and this time I got them on film flawlessly. This is the man you see today in Purple Mountain Majesty, complete with his boyish charm, his permanent smile, and his messed up hair.
The second interview
The night Purple Mountain Majesty was shown in Adams to a standing room only audience, Greeny was the first one to show up, arriving a half hour early. I kept in touch with Greeny after PMM was released. I’d visit occasionally and have milk and cookies. We exchanged Christmas Cards. And there wasn’t a time that I wouldn’t bump into Greeny in the Greylock Glen. Every time I was there, no matter the month or time of day, I would invariably see him driving up for a visit in his big white buick, a Boy Scout leaders campaign hat sitting on the rear dash. He’d pull over and we’d chat for a while, always about the Thunderbolt. Then I’d shake his strong hand through the window, and off he’d go. One night he called and invited me down to his house. It was a little out of the ordinary, and he didn’t explain. When I arrived he welcomed me in and pulled that Ski Runners of Adams patch and his ski boots out of a bag. He wanted me to have them. I told him I couldn’t accept, but he insisted, and I added them proudly to my growing collection of Thunderbolt memorabilia.
Greeny’s patch and ski boots
I don’t know much about Greeny’s life outside of the Thunderbolt. He picked up his nickname as a child because he was the best in the neighborhood at catching green frogs or “greenies.” He worked for G.E. as a lineman. He was a well liked Boy Scout leader in Adams. He was a dedicated rabbit hunter and ran beagles on Mt. Greylock throughout the 50’s and 60’s. And he retired in the 80’s after working for 38 years. Greeny was from French-Canadian decent and his slight accent gave that away. He would pronounce Thunderbolt “tundabolt.” His broken leg in 1942 was bad enough that it kept him out of the war and this pained him. Nearly every buddy of his went to war and he had to stay back. Greeny was not the kind of guy who would’ve dodged the war. He tried every branch but the break to his leg was a bad one, and he couldn’t get in. Today joining the military is the last thing on the minds of most young men. In the 40’s, 20 young men from Adams volunteered for the 10th Mountain Division, a division especially created for men the likes of Greeny. Yet he couldn’t go. So, he sat out the war and heard the news, like everybody else in Adams, of the death of his best friend, Rudy Konieczny.
The Ski Runners of Adams (l to r: Greeny Guertin, Rudy Konieczny,
Gerard Gardner, and Roy Deyle) win the 1940 team trophy
During my interviews with Greeny, he didn’t talk much about Rudy and the war. When I opened up the subject, he was always quick to close it back up. Rudy, of course, was the coach of the Ski Runners of Adams and one of Adams’ finest skiers. Rudy and Greeny were inseparable. I sensed that even 60 years later at age 83, Greeny still missed his buddy. I asked him about skiing on Greylock after the war and his answer surprised me. He never skied the Thunderbolt after Rudy died. For a man who cut his teeth skiing on the mountain, I think that’s a very revealing detail about Rudy’s death and how it affected Greeny.
Rudy and Greeny, with broken legs, clean a shotgun
There are no ski shelters named after Greeny. No books written about him. But I think he is a man who deserves to be remembered. He was a pioneer in a sport that was sweeping the nation. His athleticism, his devotion, and his leadership should be remembered. It was under his guidance that the Ski Runners of Adams beat the Dartmouth blue bloods in the team event in 1939 and 1940. Greeny’s skiing resume is filled with multiple top ten finishes and a notable first place finish in a 1939 time trial on the Thunderbolt. The man lived to ski, he skied hard, and he inspired others to do the same. The other veteran skiers had nothing but good things to say about Greeny during their interviews. Indeed, just the mention of his name brought smiles to their faces. His joie de vivre was infectious. I can attest to that. Jeddie Brooks said of Greeny, “Greeny was a good guy. You could tell just by looking at him that he was a good guy.” He was a good guy. And he was a great skier.
Practicing his signature "airball" sans skis
The last time I saw Greeny was the saddest. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect as I opened the door. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. As I entered the room all else seemed to lose focus. I could tell people were looking at me. I heard the slight din of noise and soft voices. I got a kind of tunnel vision as my eyes fell upon Greeny lying peacefully in his casket across the room. I couldn’t believe it. Greeny was gone. Of course, I knew he had died. My Gram called me and told me the morning after. I read his obituary in the newspaper. But seeing him lying in state was the final act. This man that I had come to know and grow so fondly of was now gone.
Greeny hamming it up on the summit of Greylock
It’s a strange thing to meet somebody for the first time when they are in their 80’s, learn about and grow fond of this person through pictures, stories, and old film, and then lose this person within a few short years. How could Greeny be dead? In my mind’s eye, Greeny was a 20 year old daredevil skier and captain of the Ski Runners. I wanted more time with Greeny. I wanted more chats, more stories, and more chance meetings in the Glen. But I wouldn’t get them. Nobody would. Greeny was gone. Adams, and the entire ski community, was worse off for losing him. Adams lost one of the last remaining veteran skiers able to tell the tales of the early days of skiing in America, and what is was like to take on guys like Dick Durance and Toni Matt and other Olympic skiers who came to Adams to race. He was a legend. And he will be missed. But his legend will never die unless we fail to remember. The next time you ski or hike the Thunderbolt, take a moment to stop and listen and take it all in. Think of Greeny and what he did and who he was. Pause to remember this man and his accomplishments. And you will feel it. His spirit remains on that mountain. Greeny is not that far away after all.
The author spending some time with Greeny