My wife Greta and I arranged a baby sitter for our two and half year old daughter and set our sights on the Thunderbolt. In the years since Vienna was born, I have been able to get out and ski the Thunderbolt. But as a devoted mother and loving wife, Greta has just not been able to find the time to ski. So our trip together, the first in 4 years, was a real treat for us. The forecast was for 6 to 8 inches of new snow, and as the light fluff began to fall Saturday evening, we went to bed with dreams of Thunderbolt pow dancing in our heads. And indeed the skiing turned out to be the best we’ve had in a long time. We found a solid 12 inches of a packed powder base topped off with 6 inches of fresh, light powder. The trail was wide open. There was little brush poking through. And the skiing was pure energy. The turns were sweet! We all had a blast! And we all made it down without a scratch…well almost. Save that for later. There has been so much written about the trip down the Thunderbolt…gnarly, twisting, steep, narrow, and pure fun! But the ascent is well more than half the trip, and I dare say, just as fun as the descent. And so it was, at 11:11 A.M., we headed UP the Thunderbolt with 6 of our good friends…
Thuunderbolt Ski Runers at the Thunderbolt trail head…ready to begin the ascent.
Climbing the Big Schuss.
We stopped for a picture of the gang just below the Needle’s Eye, at the exact spot where the old Thunderbolt trail careened into the forest and down the two steep slopes to the original 1934 finish line. Today, there is no trace of that trail. The forest has reclaimed what was in the 1930’s a 75 foot wide swath running straight down the mountain. Yet Dick Durrance once schussed directly by the spot we had chosen for our picture, into what is now a dense stand of maple and beech, and on to glory and a 1st place finish in 1935.
Thunderbolt Ski Runners pose just below the Needle’s Eye at the junction of the old and new Thunderbolt trails.
We continued on, up through the narrow Needle’s Eye to the only slightly less claustrophobic section referred to as the Steps. It was here that we saw a few guys on rondonee gear skinning up behind us, and closing the gap fast. There are only two guys I know who ski the Thunderbolt regularly on rondonee gear, and indeed it turned out to be our fellow Thunderbolt Ski Runner friends and clearers of the trail, Rich and Josh. I wondered how they could make skinning up the Thunderbolt look so easy…effortless…when my experience with skins was not unlike duct taping carpets to the bottom of my skis. They blew past us. These two friends of ours are in sick shape. They ski the Thunderbolt several times each week. Just the day before Josh took 4th place in the Berkshire East rondonee race. That’s 3 trips UP Berkshire East, and here he was the day after climbing the Thunderbolt and even making our marathon runners look out of shape. They caught us, we chatted, and we watched them continue on in the distance making their steady, disciplined strides, and eventually they were gone. So, I remained the bear bait. It was around this time that our muscles began to feel the weight of our packs for the first time, but we continued the climb, snapped a few photos at the top of the Big Bend, and proceeded up through the final leg of the Thunderbolt to the Summit Road.
Josh and Rich skin past us on their rondonee gear….
The section of Thunderbolt that is contiguous with the Appalachian Trail was the only part in which trees hung over and congested the trail. Heavy with snow and ice, their limbs hung down and made traffic through that section a little slow going. Of course those of us who carried our skis with the tips poking high above our heads had the most difficulty. But after a final 20 minute battle of ski tips tangled up in branches and snow crashing down onto our heads and bare necks, we arrived at the Thunderbolt Ski Shelter about 2 hours after leaving our vehicles. We were met by 3 other skiers in the shelter…and the fire they had made! That was a nice touch. We doffed our wet under layers and donned our dry fleece pullovers we fetched from our snowy packs. As we dried out and warmed up slightly we drank back bottles of water and fueled up on trail mix, Power Bars, and other high energy concoctions, all of which had frozen nearly solid. Chat turned to the trail, the history of the ski shelter, and past trips. I looked over and saw Josh and Rich drinking a beer with the 3 guys we found in the shelter. And we got pumped for the trip down. And almost without saying, as if on cue, we all began to get ready for our decent down the mountain. I looked over and saw Steve getting his pack ready. Cosmo was making final adjustments to his helmet. Mike and Meg already had their packs on and were heading out the door. Josh and Rich were finishing their beers. And Greta and Jamie were getting bundled up for the run down. With the Greylock War Memorial as a backdrop, we assembled outside for a quick pick, snapped into our alpine gear of choice…some were on snowboards, some telemark gear, and others on alpine and rondonee skis.
Thunderbolt Ski Runners on the summit just before heading down.
I was anxious to get going. We each did a quick gear check and strapped on our poles. I took one last look back at the frosty tower covered in rime ice as Josh and Rich took off first. I made sure to take it all in as Steve, Greta, and Jamie headed out. I watched them go one by one and I heard their skis scraping as they made turns on the narrow chute to the road. I thought about “Greeny” Guertin and Rudy Konieczny up there 70 years ago along with their Ski Runners of Adams buddies doing the same exact thing we were doing, except, of course, they were driving wood skis with low-cut leather boots. I pictured guys like Dick Durrance, Toni Matt, Bob Livermore, and Ted Hunter standing exactly where I stood getting ready for their blazing runs down the Thunderbolt. I was completely pumped, almost giddy, for my run. I then lowered my goggles and headed down the Thunderbolt…
The author, and bear bait for the day, poses for a pic on Big Bend before the trip down…
Oh yes, and there was that thing about nobody getting scratch? Well, Bryan came up a little short. He emerged at the bottom of the trail with a pretty decent gash on his wrist that was bleeding pretty bad. Serves him right for being in such sick shape. That will teach him for leaving me behind for the bears! But no worries, Jamie and Greta patched him up, and a hospital visit and 4 stitches later, he was back at home spending the evening trying to remove that layer of Dermatone.
Bryan’s neat slice to his wrist
Jamie and Greta patch up Bryan as Cosmo and Steve keep their distance.