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The Thunderbolt Ski Run was
born from an idea; an idea to build
a world class downhill ski racing
trail on the precipitous east slope
of Massachusetts' highest peak,
Mt. Greylock (3,491 ft.).  In 1933,
efforts by the Mt. Greylock Ski
Club and support from other local
ski clubs, ski enthusiasts, and
state and local agencies culminated in a project that would
bring skiing to Mt. Greylock.  A world class ski trail was laid
out on the east slope of Mt Greylock, and in the fall of 1934
the 107th Company of the newly created Civilian
Conservation Corps cut the trail in 3 months. Soon after it
was completed, national downhill champion Joseph Duncan
visited the trail and called it “undoubtedly the most thrilling
wooded run yet built in the country.”  The trail was named
after a roller coaster at Revere Beach and in February of
1935 it was ready for the first Massachusetts State Downhill
Championship race.
Throughout the 1930's and 40's Massachusetts State
Championship, Eastern Downhill Championship, and local
club time trial and trophy races were held on the
Thunderbolt. Some of the best skiers of the era, many of
whom were Olympic skiers, came to race on the Thunderbolt.
Besides the racers, thousands of spectators would also climb
to the lower slopes to watch the racers negotiate the
Thunderbolt's famously dangerous and fast course.  The ski
craze had come to the Berkshires! The town of Adams, which
is where the Thunderbolt is located, was informally known as
A “Little Switzerland” because it resembled a small Swiss ski
village.
Some merchants in local downtown stores began selling skis and ski gear and locals
from the foothill towns that surrounded Mt. Greylock soon found themselves picking
up this new sport that was sweeping the Nation. After the work whistles blew, the
young men would meet on the trail and practice their technique, making the 2 hour
climb just for a single run down. Many of these local amateurs soon became top rated
downhill skiers and earned their Class A rating (achieved by skiing the Thunderbolt in
under 3 minutes) and a chance to compete against the likes of Dick Durrance, Alex
Bright, and Ted Hunter, all of whom were Olympic skiers. They formed clubs with
names like The Mt. Greylock Ski Club, The Thunderbolt Ski Club, and the Ski
Runners of Adams. In 1939 and 1940, the Ski Runners of Adams, whose members
were mostly teen-age farm boys and mill workers from Adams, raced on The
Thunderbolt and won the team trophy, beating their rivals, the blue bloods from
Dartmouth College.
During WWII many of the local men from Berkshire County who
had picked up skiing on the Thunderbolt enlisted in the 10th
Mountain Division. They trained at Camp Hale in Pando, Colorado
and experienced combat against the Germans in the Appenine
Mountains in Italy. After the war skiing on the Thunderbolt
declined. Ski areas with modern lifts were more common, skiing
became less competitive and more recreational, and it seemed as
though the Thunderbolt was destined to become an abandoned
trail.  In the 1950's Williams College widened the dangerously
narrow Needle's Eye and held collegiate races on the trail into the
1960's. There was a post-war effort to bring a modern gondola and
ski trails to Mt. Greylock, but funding and support were limited and
the project never materialized. By the 1980's, decades of neglect
made the Thunderbolt almost unskiable and it was relegated to a
hiking trail.
Although small groups and individuals skied on the
Thunderbolt throughout the 70's and 80's, a serious and
concerted effort to restore the trail didn't materialize until
the late 90's.  In the mid-1990's backcountry skiers and
snowboarders rediscovered the Thunderbolt and began to
cut the thick brush that had grown unabated for decades. In
1999 a documentary film about the Thunderbolt was
produced by a local high school teacher and his students.
The film, Purple Mountain Majesty, went
on to win awards and stimulated a wave of interest in the trail. Soon after its release, the
Thunderbolt was showing up in back-country ski guides, was the topic of conversation on
backcountry ski blogs, and was being skied regularly. Ski clubs and individuals organized trail
clean-up days on the Thunderbolt, and today the trail is in the best condition it has been in 35
years. For skiers and history buffs alike, the Thunderbolt Ski Run offers a pristine look at the
early days of skiing. Of the four Class A trails built by the CCC in New England, the Taft Trail,
Nose Dive, Wildcat, and Thunderbolt, only the latter exists as it did in the 1930's. Skiing the
Thunderbolt is like going back in time. Only the Thunderbolt offers a true backcountry
experience, void of modern lifts, grooming, lights, or ski patrol. Every year hundreds of skiers
and riders come to Mt. Greylock to test their skill against the mountain's most famous trail. It's
not for everybody. The trail is fast, narrow, and steep. But to ski the Thunderbolt is to ski a
legend, and to ski where legends skied. The Thunderbolt Ski Run...schuss it if you can!