Sunday, January 16, 2011

-Trip Report- Mt. Greylock: Thunderstruck

Few trails are steeped in history like the Thunderbolt on Massachusetts' highest mountain: Mt. Greylock.  Sitting above the town of Adams in Western Mass., the mountain was a mecca for backcountry skiers in the 1930's and 40's. (Except in those pre-lift days they were just known as skiers.)  It remains a popular destination for skiers and boarders: expecially when the Berkshires fill-in with snow.

Bishop to F4.
I had been thinking of skiing the Thunderbolt, but it never seemed like there was enough snow, or there were more attractive destinations in New Hampshire or Vermont that were just as far from Boston.  However, the recent Nor'easter deposited three feet of snow in nearby Savoy, which is right across the valley from Greylock.  It was finally time to check out this veritable museum of ski history.

As mentioned in David Goodman's book, Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast,  the Thunderbolt was one of the few Class A race trails in the Norteast during its heyday.  It was joined by only Nosedive (Stowe), Wildcat (Pinkham Notch), Whiteface and the Richard Taft (Cannon) trails, who had the length and steepness to qualify as race trails.  Sections of the trail are named, and signs let you know when you are running through “The Bumps”, “The Big Schuss” or “The Needle Eye”.

I started out my drive under clear blue skies, but by the time I had reached Athol (not to be confused with Masshole), the high clouds had rolled in.  My GPS insisted on diverting me onto back roads, and it started to snow as I headed up over the highlands separating I-91 from Adams.  By the time I pulled into the parking area at the intersection of Thiel and Gould road (the start of the trail), the snow was beginning to collect.

Somebody start the frickin' fire.
After running along the unplowed road for a bit, the Thunderbolt launches up the mountain.  I saw a few snowshoers, snowboarders and tele-skiers, but the trail was mostly quiet for a Saturday on MLK weekend.

As is typical for a January backcountry tour, I raced uphill to fight the impending darkness.  I broke the cardinal rule, and worked up a good sweat so that by the time I reached the hut at the top, I was ready to sit by the fire and dry out.

I was in for a rude surprise then, to discover the hut, although full of people, it wasn’t much warmer than the snowbank I planted my skis into.  I ate a celebratory Pop-Tart (Blueberry!), and headed back outside for my run.

Getting ready to make the right-hand turn.
Although weather was moving in, the cloud cover was still high.  I had a decent view of Adams and the valley below as I stood at the top of the trail on the edge of the access road.

I hopped over the edge and found powder along the sides of the otherwise well traveled top section.  This part of the trail, which runs along the northern ridge of the mountain, doesn’t get above a blue square grade of steepness until it opens up, turning right and heading straight down the face into the valley.

The trail then drops over two steep sections, and into the Needle Eye, where a steep and narrow section forces you to tuck and pray that no roots or rocks are poking through the well traveled trail. 

Clear trails on an Saturday.  Welcome to the Backcountry!
One more steep section known as the “Big Schuss” ends with a short bridge.  After crossing the bridge, only “The Bumps” remain before the trail closes-in to little more than a footpath back out to the road.

Greylock is definitely one of the widest backcountry trails in the Northeast.  It more closely resembles a resort groomer than the glade skiing exprience that awaits most backcountry skiers.

While I didn't get a chance to make more than one run, I hear that when Greylock gets an especially generous dump of snow the powerline that runs straight up the face becomes skiable.

Now there's a reason to return. Enjoy the video!

Mt. Greylock from Nor'Easter Backcountry on Vimeo.

I couldn't resist a GoogleEarth analysis.  Plus I needed a picture with color.


  1. Nice Video Andy..... looks like a lot of fun.. more fun than I had hugging a toilet with food poisoning. So how much snow would you say is there? Didn't look like 3'..


  2. Not sure how much they started with, but it was almost enough so that when it tracked out, and reset in the cold weather, it felt almost groomed. If they keep what they have and get another good 6-12 inches it will be perfect. As it stands, still a few too many rocks/roots poking through in the lower sections.

    And c'mon.. toilets give good hugs.

  3. Did you see the coverage on the powerline (1901 landslide)? I've been trying to scour the internet for information and close up photos of it to determine pitch and obstacles, cliffs, on the way down. It looks like it could be a pretty radical run with enough snow, but also a high avy risk too.

  4. I haven't done any runs down the powerline, but I hear it is doable. As of a couple of weeks ago, some folks on the Time4Tuckerman forums were saying that it needed a little more coverage. Keep your fingers crossed for another big storm this week. Best of luck with it, and be sure to let us know how it goes.

  5. don't forget to explore! there is a cirque-like feature on the NW slope of Greylock and great tree skiing in the old growth near T-bolt and elsewhere

  6. I will definitely be back to see more of the mountain. Thanks for the tips!