Mike Walsh | Powder Report: A look at the badass and unpredictable Thunderbolt Ski Race


The Winter Olympics are peak time for badasses doing bad-ass things.

Whether its Kyle Mack throwing down a 1440 Bloody Dracula off the snowboard Big Air Friday night, Jessie Diggins finding the ends of her stamina to take Nordic gold or the American curling squad celebrating a trip to the gold medal match with McFlurries, badasses come in all shapes and sizes this time of year.

These people aren't just national stars, like Jamie Anderson taking gold on a wind-riddled slopestyle course that would've had me in need of new snowpants. There are local badasses here in the Berkshires as well.

Take figure skaters Daniella Santamarina and Aimee Boulais. Boulais overcame a myriad of injuries, including a strained MCL to earn a bronze medal at the Bay State Games. Santamarina's story is remarkable and heart-breaking. The teenage skater overcame the grief of losing her father, Rodrigo Santamarina, in October to lay down a gold medal performance in Williamstown two weeks ago.

Winter sports test endurance, drive and fortitude just as much as actual skill and ability. Nothing portrays that better than the Thunderbolt Ski Race, so I tracked down local badass and former president of the Thunderbolt Ski Runners, Blair Mahar, to chat about the unfortunate cancellation/transition of the race and what it takes to actually compete.

"The race this year was a Rando or ski-mountaineering race. These guys ski up the mountain and down as fast as they can and its a multi-lap event," said Mahar. "To hold that kind of race at Greylock requires quite a bit of snow. The Thunderbolt has stumps and rocks, and we just weren't even close this year. There is no base left."

The Bolt, which was testing out this new format under new race director Jonathan Shefftz, who runs a New England Rando series, was moved to Berkshire East due to a lack of natural snow in the Mount Greylock area. It also presents a new and slightly more badass set-up, which has competitors racing two laps up and down the mountain.

"When we have our own race, racers ascend Mount Greylock under their own power on skis or snowshoes, and they take they one lap, timed from the start at the summit to the finish line," said Mahar. "This Rando Race, though, is a mass start at the bottom. They race up the mountain as fast as they can, then transition to their downhill gear, descend to the base, where they go back into ascent mode and do it again. That is geared for superbly fit racers who have an Alpine background."

Over the past couple of years, as I near my 30th birthday, I've been creating New Year's resolution-type 30 before 30 lists of things I want to accomplish or try. The Thunderbolt has been on that list for some time now (as has the Steel Rail Half Marathon, in which I'm coming for Daily Hampshire Gazette sports editor Mike Moran this spring. I won't let you down, Berkshires). Unfortunately, due to bad luck, global warming or a groundhog in Pennsylvania, the Bolt hasn't had a ton of snow on it lately and I haven't been able to give it a go.

"Every year we cancel, we get absolutely nailed on Facebook and in the community," said Mahar, who hears all the pleas to hold it at a different time of year. "People just don't understand that with Greylock you need a tremendous amount of snow and the best chance for that is at the end of February."

In the previous eight years, the runners have tried to hold it every year and have pulled it off four times. Two of those off-years had no snow whatsoever, and then two others a move would have missed the good snow.

"We're batting 50-50," Mahar, who has been with the group since it's inception in 2008, says somewhat proudly. "I don't think this year we would've had a race no matter what date we picked. I don't think anybody has skied the Bolt this year. It's been a bad season."

That is the most badass, winter sport attitude I've heard in a while, and I love it. Winter sports are incredibly unpredictable, just ask forever bae and forever badass Mikaela Shiffrin about the weather in Pyeongchang, or any ice fisher you see out on Lake Pontoosuc when the sun is out and the temperatures are creeping into the 40s.

Maybe a late-season blizzard will make the Bolt shreddable this winter. Maybe we'll all have to wait another year to see if we can make it happen. Either way, I needed some advice from a badass backwoods skier on what to expect when that day comes.

"I think as a competitor for the Thunderbolt, you have to realize that getting up is only half the battle," said Mahar, who raced it twice and skis it as often as he can. "If it takes you two hours to get up, you've got to leave enough fuel in the tank to get back down the mountain.

"You can fry your legs and lungs on the way up, and then you've got your race leg to contend with. If your legs are spent, you're going to have a wobbly run down the mountain."

Elsewhere in the not-so-powdery Berkshires, be sure to check out Jiminy Peak's Stride 100K Vertical Challenge, which will feature a pretty badass 12-hour, 87-run adventure to raise funds and awareness for the STRIDE program that helps youth with disabilities and Wounded Warriors get on the mountain with adaptive equipment.

Bousquet is hosting its annual Cardboard Carnival on March 3, always a good time with great prizes and creative designs.

Ski Butternut is hosting a Logs N' Lipslides event on March 4, which will feature a unique rail jam that will have you shredding some natural features as they mix wooden logs with traditional rails. Three divisions, sign-ups roll until 10 a.m., with first heat at 11.

Until next time, keep your tips up and stay spoice!

Mike Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.


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