Glory Days

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A longtime Berkshires club hill brings a bit of yesterday back to today's trails.

Rising above the pastoral landscape of the Berkshires, Mt. Greylock - Massachusetts's highest peak at 3,491 feet - stands like a sentinel over two of America's richest alpine traditions. One is the Thunderbolt Ski Trail, cut during the Great Depression by FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps: The Bolt's big vertical (2,191 feet), dramatic S-turns and 35-degree steeps made it a favorite for downhill races that attracted the nation's best. The other is the Mt. Greylock Ski Club, set on the flanks of Mt. Greylock. These days only backcountry skiers thread the Needle's Eye - a steep cliff on the now-defunct Thunderbolt - but the club is thriving, and a day spent here feels much like it would have during the race's 1940s heyday.

Luckily, club members - and anyone considering dropping 120 bucks for the annual family membership - can easily connect to this storied past by riding one of the club's three dated but speedy ropetows. "We have nine trails, but you can basically ski wherever you want, says club president Mark Volk, reflecting Greylock's libertarian attitude, which meshes neatly with the cooperative effort it takes to run the area without paid staff.

Imagine a junior Mad River Glen, where tree shots cut by autumn work parties keep things interesting for the big kids. Jump Glade, which follows the route of an old 100-foot ski jump, drops playfully through well-spaced birch and maples between blue-square Whiffenpoof and black-diamond Chute. On the lower reaches, beginners skid around on the gentle meadows of the 84-acre farm Greylock's founders purchased in 1937.

In the confines of the tiny timbered lodge, orange-and-white-striped Völkl Tigers and other castaways from the '70s sit in the rafters, while a pair of mittens dries on the antlers of a deer mount. Nearby, Bousquet Tow Grippers - rope-tow clamp and harness devices illegal everywhere north of New Zealand, but grandfathered at Greylock - hang on the wall ready to help the next generation of skiers negotiate the tows in vintage style. What you won't find is a shred of pretense. There isn't even indoor plumbing. (Two outhouses do the job.)

The Yellowstone Club it's not, but one thing's for sure: They're keeping it real at Greylock.

The Mt. Greylock Ski Club has three ropetows serving nine trails and 350 vertical feet. Members and guests only, though prospective members are welcome.; 413-445-7887