Peak Preview: Thunderbolt Ski Run

Written by 
Amanda Rae Busch
Photography by 
Illustration by Alison Kolesar
Hike the famed trail--and help clean it up--before ski season



The air is growing frigid and the days shorter, and—unless Mother Nature is feeling unusually generous—flurries still await us: welcome to the shoulder season for outdoor recreation.



Winter sports enthusiasts may be knee-deep in preseason conditioning regimens (likely hitting the gym, yawn), while enjoyable pursuits among the great outdoors are scarce. But though hikers have mostly abandoned footpaths until spring thaw, the big, bad granddaddy of trails—the legendary Thunderbolt Ski Run in Adams, Mass.—is just now starting to gear up for its time to shine. And just like an alpine enthusiast’s tight hamstrings, the notoriously steep backwoods chute on the eastern face of Mount Greylock needs nudging into shape.



Enter the Thunderbolt Ski Runners, a diehard group of about twenty devotees unofficially based at Berkshire Outfitters on Route 8 just a few miles from the mountain, who meet regularly to maintain the terrain distressed by summer wind damage and late-autumn briar overgrowth.


“Thankfully, the trail is in pretty good shape,” says Josh Chittenden, the group’s vice president, who helps organize monthly volunteer work parties as well as the annual historic race down the treacherous, un-groomed path come February. He credits that in part to the great ice storm of December 2008, which had relief crews scrambling to remove fallen trees and layers of brush to return the trail to its former glory. This year, Chittenden notes, intrepid volunteers need only bring work gloves and a small hand saw or loppers. (A strong back will serve you well, too.)


“For someone who’s never skied the trail, fall is the best time to be up there, so you can read the landscape,” explains Chittenden, a fourteen-year veteran of the undulating, 1.6-mile Thunderbolt, who clocks an estimated forty hikes per year. “It’s an hour-and-a-half to two-hour approach—and a lot harder than people think. But once you get to the top, you’re surrounded by a multistate view: Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York … quite a panorama.”


In addition to awe-inspiring scenery from just below the highest point in Massachusetts (3,491 feet) is something perhaps less tangible. “It’s the anticipation of a good snowfall,” Chittenden quips. “This is a great way to get in touch with other skiers; the excitement and enthusiasm that comes with it really psychs everyone up for winter. Think snow!” [NOV/DEC 2010]


Though she learned to ski two decades ago, Berkshire Living senior editor Amanda Rae Busch plans to snowboard the Thunderbolt Ski Run for the very first time this year. But first she’ll have to hike it.



Thunderbolt Ski Runners
Volunteer trail days ongoing

Berkshire Outfitters
169 Grove St./Route 8
Adams, Mass.
413. 743.5900



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