Conditions ideal for Thunderbolt Ski Race, festival


ADAMS -- It's easy to lament the past several weeks of snowstorms and bitter cold. But all of that misery is about to pay off.

For the first time in three years, there will be plenty of snow on the ground for the annual Thunderbolt Ski Race and Thunderfest afterparty this weekend. The festival, just a few years old, has never been held on the same day as the ski race.

The race, held on Mount Greylock, matches up 67 skiers on the historic backwoods Thunderbolt Ski Trail, which its riders tout as the most unique in the county. The Thunderfest, held directly after the race this year, is a winter celebration that includes a bonfire and chowder cook-off.

Each year, the two events attract thousands of visitors, and with the weather staying cold, their organizers are hoping for a record-setting year.

"We are excited," said Dave Bissaillon of ProAdams, a volunteer group. "The last two years we've had the festival but not the race on the same day."

Bissaillon noted that the festival and the race have "really become our signature events," and each year he notices more and more people coming from out of the area. Town Administrator Jonathan Butler echoed those comments, saying that the town hopes to attract more out-of-town visitors.

"Half of the registered racers are from out of state," Butler said.

Bissaillon said the event has received a positive response from local businesses.

"With ProAdams, all volunteers, the whole intention was to spark business," he said. "It gets the pubs, restaurants, and retail in the game."

The weekend actually begins tonight with a reading and book signing by Charlie Sanders, author of "The Boys of Winter," at the Adams Visitors Center. The book tells the story of Adams' 10th Mountain Division and its role in World War II.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, the first shuttle will leave from the Visitors Center parking lot to bring spectators to the base of the mountain. From there, it's about a 30 minute hike to the finish line. The race itself runs from 11 a.m. to noon.

"We had people ski [on Thursday] up at the mountain," said Blair Mahar, the Thunderbolt Ski Runners' Sargeant-at-Arms. "It's not icy, it's hard-packed, and there's a ton of snow."

Mahar said a crew of volunteers will be on the mountain today, grooming out any moguls, or high spots, in the trail, and that conditions will be great for racing.

"It's an absolutely unique event. It's a vintage, backwoods ski race," Butler said, in the traditional style before the mechanization of downhill ski trail grooming.

Thunderfest, which takes place adjacent to the Visitors Center, begins at noon with food from Bounti-Fare, Adams Ale House, Izzy's Diner and Pizza, Adams Lions Club, How We Roll and beer from Wandering Star Brewery in Pittsfield.

Chris Kleeman and Rebel Alliance will provide live music, and the chowder competition begins at 1:30 p.m. A bonfire will be roaring all day to supply ample warmth.

"Thunderfest is just a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy the winter," Butler said.

For the first time, an award ceremony for the race's winners will be held during Thunderfest.

With the events finally here, its organizers are ready.

"It's one of those things where it's the town taking advantage of its unique niche in the Berkshire marketplace, having access to the mountain and the history of the mountain," Bissaillon said. "The irony is you can't drive up Mount Greylock from Adams."

Thunderbolt Ski Race and ThunderFest Weekend

* 6:30 p.m. Friday: Lecture and book signing by author Charlie Sanders, Adams Visitors Center, 3 Hoosac St.

* 9 a.m. Saturday: Free shuttle begins from parking lot adjacent to Adams Visitors Center to take spectators up to the base of mountain.

* 11 a.m. to noon Saturday: Thunderbolt Ski Race

* Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday: ThunderFest at the Adams Visitors Center


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