As Thunderbolt Ski Race takes a break, meet its grueling replacement: The Bolt

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ADAMS — It's not the famed Thunderbolt Ski Race, but it's close.

"The Bolt," a race set for Feb. 24 at the Greylock Glen, is not organized by the Thunderbolt Ski Runners, although some of them will be helping as volunteers. And some racers who typically compete in the Thunderbolt race will join in.

It largely follows the same historic Thunderbolt Trail, but it's a different race, as the Thunderbolt Ski Runners are taking a step back from organizing the quasi-annual event, according to Thunderbolt member and race organizer Josh Chittendon.

"The Thunderbolt Ski Runners are just getting burned out," Chittendon said. "After 10 years of organizing and running the race, the members are going through a lot of life changes and decided it would be helpful to take a break."

The Bolt race at Mount Greylock is a rando-style backcountry ski race in which the racers will "skin" (using skins on the ski bottoms to cross-country ski uphill) and climb to the Thunderbolt Shelter near the summit and ski back down the Thunderbolt Trail.

Then they do the same thing two more times, with no break, for a total of 5,000 vertical feet of up-and-down racing. The competitor who completes the course in the shortest time wins. It is one in a series of backcountry ski races organized by the New England Rando Race Series.

Past letdowns

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The Thunderbolt Race has had to cancel the event because of warm weather and lack of snow including 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017. That's discouraging for organizers.

"It's a stressful job, and it's a lot of work," Chittendon said. "And to do all that work and worrying, just to have a warmup and a snowmelt, and not have it come off — it's like a punch in the gut. So, we're going to take a year or two off to focus more on the membership, have more low-key events for members and their families."

The Thunderbolt Race might move to every other year, or maybe every three years, Chittendon said. The concept is under discussion.

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"We just had to step back for a season," he added. "If not putting on a race will keep the club together, then that's what we're going to do."

Speaking of life changes, Chittendon just had one: His wife, Jessica, gave birth Dec. 20 to Alexis Jade Chittendon. Tending to a baby is not exactly conducive to organizing and operating a backcountry ski race.

Chittendon and Bolt race organizer Jonathan Shefftz note that this alternative race will be sanctioned by the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association.

Shefftz, race director and organizer for the New England Rando Race Series, said that, considering the history of racing and snowmelts on this trail, "we've got a 50-50 chance of pulling it off."

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He expects to see 50 or more racers at the event. Awards will be presented during the annual Thunderfest celebration at the Adams Visitors Center.

Because it is a sanctioned race, it comes with requirements that might differ from past races at the Thunderbolt. For example, no snowshoes are permitted during the climb to the top, and helmets need to be certified for skiing and mountain climbing.

Shefftz said the winning time will likely be in the neighborhood of one hour, 40 minutes.

The Thunderbolt Trail is a steep climb and a tough ride down — features that draw competitors.

"Oh, it's especially brutal," he said. "I like it."

Reach Scott Stafford at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com.


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