Racers fast as greased lightning at 80th anniversary Thunderbolt Ski Race


Photo Gallery | Thunderbolt Race at Mount Greylock

ADAMS - With skins on their skis and helmets on their heads, just more than 100 racers started up the side of Mount Greylock at 10 a.m., skinning or snowshoeing the more than three miles to the summit, just to turn around and ski right back down again.

Then, when they got to the finish line, about 70 of them spun around and went right back up the mountain for another run.

Welcome to the 80th anniversary Thunderbolt Ski Race 2015. Under a brilliant sun, with little wind and temperatures hovering in the upper teens, racers gathered with their families, friends and a few snow dogs at the gazebo in Greylock Glen. The snowy winter was a blessing for the race — the snow base was several feet deep.

Just before start time, the racers set their skis at the starting line and stood back about 100 feet waiting for the starting gun.

When the gun went off, they hustled to their skis or snowshoes, hooked up and headed up the trail. Most of them used skis with skins on the bottom for a cross-country-ski-style climb up the slopes. Others used snowshoes with their skis and snowboards strapped to their backs.

The total run up and down is about 6.3 miles. That's just one lap.

Most of the spectators snowshoed up the trail a bit to a spot known as Four Corners, where they gather around the trail so they can watch the skiers on their downhill run.

Paul Chojnowski, one of the race organizers and president of Thunderbolt Ski Runners, was at Four Corners watching the racers with the crowd.

"It was exciting, very exciting," he said. "They were going downhill really fast. The skill sets on some of these racers is just incredible."

Once the racers reached the summit, a climb that takes at least 50 minutes for the fastest, the trail down begins at the Thunderbolt Shelter near the summit. They stopped near the shelter to shed their skins and start the downhill run, which takes another 10 minutes or so.

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The first to finish lap one (also the winner in the men's division, Jerimy Arnold) did it about 61 minutes. He didn't have time to chat, as once he had the skins back on his skis he was off for another run up and down the mountain. A second skier, Josh Flanagan, was right behind him.

Arnold said the lead switched off between he and Flanagan several times during their two trips up and down the mountain.

Arnold, of Chelmsford, finished in 2 hours, 6 minutes and 5 seconds. Flanagan, of Sturbridge, was hot on his heels. He was just 8 seconds behind with a time of 2:06:13. In third place was Jonathan Shefftz, who lives in Amherst and also served as race director, with a time of 2:17:27.

In the women's division, Katie Vadasdi, of Greenwich, Conn., finished first with a time of 3:14:03. Greta Faccheti, of Savoy, finished second in 3:15:33. In third place was Angela Schnuerch, of Rochester, N.Y., with a time of 3:23:19.

After the race, the racers joined a party that had already started at the Adams Visitors Center for the fourth annual Thunderfest, a celebration of the Thunderbolt Trail and the race.

Aside from all the food and beverage vendors, the live music and the bonfire, a special treat came in the form of Steve Nowicky, 93-year-old Adams native and a racer who took third place in the 1942 Thunderbolt championship race. He wielded the starting pistol to begin the race, and he was at Thunderfest to present medals to the winners.

First place finisher Arnold said it was a tight race all the way through.

"The climb was at a good angle, it was fast," he said. "And skiing downhill was great. I mean I wouldn't call it easy, but the conditions were really good for racing."

Chojnowski noted that last year, there were about 60 racers. And heading into race week this year, there were only about 50 signed up. But when it became clear the weather forecast was looking good for race day, another 50 racers signed up during the last few days.

"They just started rolling in," he said.

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.


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