In 2010 the Thunderbolt Ski Runners resurrected the Thunderbolt Ski Race to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Class A ski trail on the highest peak in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock. After a successful event that year, the TSR decided to make it a yearly event. 2011 went off without a hitch but lack of snow in 2012 and 2013 ultimately cancelled the event. As luck would have it, I was signed up to race both years it was cancelled.
Even after two consecutive years of disappointment, the TSR was resolute and again planned Thunderfest weekend with the down-mountain race on Saturday and with the help of NE Rando Race Series added a truly backcountry SkiMo race for Sunday. Sunday’s race is one of only 2 or 3 SkiMo races in North America to be held completely outside of resort boundaries. Not to mention it would be the biggest race course in the Northeast with 6200 ft of ascent!
Closure of the Gould Farm at the start of the race required a lengthy detour from the ascent route used in 2010 and 2011. Rough estimates have it as an extra 0.7 miles of rolling terrain for a total climb of 3.5 miles. Competitors for the down-mountain race could leave race HQ anytime from 7:30-10 AM. I chose to start around 9:30 to minimize the amount of time sitting around in the summit shelter. A late start would give warmer temperatures and relaxed start to the morning. The only downside is that I would have to pass many other racers on the narrow trail.
Trail conditions were firm and fast with lots of frozen post-holes making traction difficult and a steady rhythm impossible. I just tried to keep my effort near maximum while focusing on form to minimize slipping. I said my best hypoxic hello to some familiar faces of volunteer ski patrollers who were also making their way to the summit and on to their assigned stations. I emerged from the trail onto the summit plateau and pushed hard on the flats and into the finish in 54:16.
The shelter has a wood stove which provided the opportunity to dry out clothing and stay warm in the hour long wait before my scheduled time to descend. The time passed quickly while mingling with fellow racers.
The Thunderbolt Ski Race is primarily focused on the down-mountain time but there are also categories for ascent time and combined up/down time for King of the Mountain. For the descent, a time in the 4.5-5 minute range would likely give me the KOM. I felt like I took a good line on the upper section but lower down got off the best line and had to negotiate some larger moguls. Meine oberschenkels es brennt, to say the least! A down time of 4:29 was good for 17th and the King of the Mountain.
A dozen participants plus 4 volunteer patrollers showed up for Sunday’s race. A light dusting of snow overnight made for a much more pleasant skinning conditions than the day prior.
The first climb strung out the pack with Josh closely trailing me much of the first climb. He passed me on the first descent, near the end of the Thunderbolt. I stayed on his heels onto the Bucket trail and pulled back ahead as he slightly overshot the transition. I slowly pulled away (totally understandable as Josh raced 12K verticle at the Aspen Power of 4 the previous day plus a redeye and limited sleep).
Aside from wrangling with a porcupine on the skintrack, I was alone for the remainder of the race. I did see a few battles going on between Jonathan and Bob on the last climb as well as Dima and Evan close together on the down.
A big thanks goes out to Jonathan, Josh Chittenden, Dave Childs, Steve Sauve, and countless others whom all put in a lot of effort to put on a high caliber event. Looking forward to doing it all again next year!