In 1938, a German ski team was dispatched to Western Massachusetts by Adolf Hitler to compete in the Eastern Downhill Championships, which were held that year on the slopes of Mount Greylock.
Over seven thousand spectators lined the wooded ski trail called Thunderbolt. They witnessed the defeat of local favorite Rudy Konieczny of Adams, who was that year's runner-up, by the University of Munich's Fritz Dehmel.
Seven years later, during the Second World War, Konieczny was killed in combat while serving as a member of the U.S. Army Tenth Mountain Division in the Italian Alps. In 1999, at the summit of Mount Greylock, descendants of the Konieczny family took part in a ceremony dedicating the Thunderbolt Ski Shelter to the former skier and soldier. And this weekend, that dedicated shelter will keep dozens of skiers and boarders warm as they wait for the beginning of the 2013 Thunderbolt Ski Race.
Skiing is a pastime steeped in history. Many of its most famous trails whisper old stories that can still be heard through the frozen snow pack. Not many trails, however, are as legendary as the Thunderbolt Trail, which winds unassumingly through the eastern hardwoods of Mount Greylock, just as it has for more than three-quarters of a century. At 3,491 feet, Massachusetts' highest peak does not enjoy the impressive elevation or the reliable snowfall of so many other notable peaks across the skiing landscape. But few mountains have played so important a role in skiing's history.
"The Thunderbolt [is] much more than just a ski trail," writes David Goodman in Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski Tours in New England and New York. "Built in the wake of the Great Depression, the trail formed the hub of a bustling ski subculture."
A ski culture that, impressively, continues to this day.
"[Modern-day] Thunderbolt skiers have done more than restore a ski trail," continues Goodman. "They have created a living museum on Mount Greylock, bringing history to life and re-creating the vibrant community that thrived around the trail."
For more information on this year's Thunderbolt Ski Race, to be held this Saturday, March 2, visit the Thunderbolt Ski Runners website: http://www.thunderboltskirunners.org/race.
For more information on the history of the Thunderbolt Trail, read Skiing Through History, my Travel article from Preview Massachusetts: http://www.previewma.com/article_print.cfm?aid=13102.