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Thunder Mountain - New England's Newest Downhill Park

Jul 14, 2015
by Rachelle Frazer Boobar  
Thunder Mountain Bike Park
Thunder Mountain Bike Park


If you've spent any time in New England, you'll know the area is strewn with small, family run ski resorts, many that have recently turned their attention to providing summer activities in order to boost business. Berkshire East Ski Resort in Charlemont, Massachusetts, is one such mom and pop shop, who have tightened up their ship to move from listless ski area to a year-round adventure destination.

"My father bought this place out of bankruptcy for a dollar in 1975," says Jon Schaefer, Co-Owner and General Manager of Berkshire East. "There's four brothers and we grew up here ski racing, in a bit of a transient life between here in winters and Michigan in the summers." At some point during his ownership, Jon's father brought in some partners. "So in 2008 this place was pretty sleepy, my brother bought out the partners and brought in myself and Tyler Conrad. We built zip lines in '09 and then really attacked ski infrastructure - snowmaking, electrical and lifts. We really worked on the backbone. Customers will see the snow is much better, and we are the first ski area to run off 100% renewable energy."

The renewable energy comes from a 500 kWh solar facility and a 900 kWh wind turbine, located on the top of the mountain that powers the resort's operations in its entirety. After the price of power issue was fixed, the Schaefers and Tyler built a new lodge. Then in 2013, they brought in the Mountain Coaster, a mix between an alpine slide and a roller coaster, along with a new quad chair. "This year is the mountain making year. We went from infrastructure and being able to function as a business to customer service type things. A new lodge, more amenities, mountain biking, the mountain coaster, and white water rafting."

Berkshire East
berkshire East
Berkshire East

So what was the catalyst to build a bike park? "As brothers we grew up mountain biking and ski racing. Through ski racing I spent a lot of time in NZ, Australia, Europe - you end up in a lot of areas so you pay attention to those communities and see what we should be doing. More recently we went to Kingdom trails in '09 and thought 'We can build this.' We've got the land, so we built 35 miles of singletrack which is mostly intermediate/advanced but rides nicely, a lot of big climbs, big descents. That was kind of like the test run of the mountain bike business."

The Schaefers had done what many other areas had tried to do, built long rooty, rocky singletrack, but then realized something was missing. "We realized we hadn't built things for the beginner/intermediate" says Jon.

This is where Gravity Logic came in. "That's Gravity Logic's sweet spot - they do a really good job of making an area accessible for the first time mountain biker, the long time mountain biker, families and kids." Gravity Logic's founders Tom "Pro" Prochazka, Rob Cocquyt and Dave Kelly were key players in the building and success of the Whistler Bike Park and have taken their trail building and bike park business knowledge and experience across the globe, helping ski resorts and other bike parks develop trail networks and implement structure. The service doesn't just stop at designing, planning and trail building - the team comes in to assist with Instructor Development programs, retail and rental training, sponsorship strategies and safety risk and management.

"Gravity Logic have a great reputation - their whole MO is being a category killer. Dave (Kelly) came out within a week, he started telling me he was busy and had a lot lined up for this year, and we basically had a conversation where we said, 'Do any of those mountains wants you to start next week? He was like, 'Nope.' And we said, 'Come on in.' We've become good friends, they're nice guys, hopefully they will keep building; I feel like they have a rapport with the mountain, they like it here and it fits what they want to do."

Berkshire East
  Co-owner and GM Jon Schaefer with Bike Park Manager / Ski Racing Director Tyler Conrad.

Dave and the Gravity Logic team have set up a five-year trail building plan for the mountain, but the team at Berkshire East are keen to fast-track that. Gravity Logic will be spending most of the summer at the resort, laying in new trails. Since initial building started, there are now 12 trails open at Berkshire East equating to 12 miles of downhill. The green trail is 3.6 miles long - that's the longest green descent in North America. There are also six blue trails that range from rooty flowing singletrack to mid sized jumps, three black trails, and "For the Pinkbike crowd, says Jon, "we've got two double blacks."

For those new to downhilling there are 39 rental bikes available as well as "Discover Your Ride" group lessons held twice daily and private lessons. For those seasoned with gravity riding, the Eastern States Downhill series will be stopping in Berkshire East on September 27 to race on "The Schist" Thunder Mountain's new purpose-built double black DH race track. Could enduro be on the cards? Jon says, "We'd love to do an enduro".

Berkshire East
The rental shop has 39 Specialized Status and Demo downhill bikes in their fleet.
Berkshire East
The bike wash is set up with buckets and brush kits for the end of your riding day.


bigquotesThe vision is not just for Berkshire East the ski area, it's for the whole area. We want people to leave the town and think, "Wow, that was an awesome weekend. We've got the whitewater rafting, the zip line, the coaster, the mountain biking... It's a beautiful area, there's great things culturally, just the whole area has to piece it together more effectively for outside visitors but we'll get there. - Jon Schaefer
.

Berkshire East
Shawn Beaudoin and Tom Pro of Gravity Logic day a day off digging to enjoy the trails they've been labouring over for the last two months.
Berkshire East
Shawn hucks his way out of Bully Budger, one of the mountain's black trails.

Berkshire East
The patrol shack is located right at the top of the chair, in case you find yourself in some trouble.
Berkshire East

Thunder Mountain Bike Park
  Norwegian Ski-Cross Olympic Medalist Hedda Bernsten has traded skis for bikes and is hanging out in the area for the summer.

Berkshire East
There's a zip line course on the mountain for anyone who's game.
Berkshire East
Ethan, Steve and Chris traveled from Albany, NY for opening weekend. The boys declared conditions to be wet, but that they were having a good time.

Berkshire East

Thunder Mountain Bike Park
  There's a bunch of beautiful bridge work on a few of the trails to accommodate drainage needs. This is on Harold's Bend.

Thunder Mountain Bike Park

Thunder Mountain Bike Park
  The Gronk is a mid size jumps trail - expect a bigger jump trail to be completed in the coming months. Gravity Logic build all their jumps as table tops, so everyone can learn and progress.

Berkshire East
  Did someone say butter berms?

Berkshire East
  At the end of your day head to the Crazy Horse for a beer and a burger.

Thunder Mountain Bike Park
Crash out at Warfield House B&B just across the river from the Bike Park, then do it all again the next day.
Thunder Mountain Bike Park
We'll definitely be back for more.

The motivation from Schaefer and the Berkshire East team is evident; expect lots of changes to the resort not only this year, but in the coming years. As we chatted we were interrupted by some riders that wanted to thank Jon and Tyler for the work they've put into the bike park. The riders talk about how other places talk about doing things differently, but don't ever quite get there. Jon simply smiles and answers, "Thanks. We'll let our trails do the talking."

Hours of Operation:
10am - 5 pm - Mon / Thursday / Sunday
Tues Wed - Closed.
10 am - 7 pm Friday / Sat Subject to change.

For more information about Thunder Mountain Bike Park check out the website.
For more information about Gravity Logic click here.


45 Comments

  • + 21
 I rode here on opening day and the mountain has a ton of potential and already a great variety of trails. I wound up talking with one of the Gravity Logic guys and they are really putting in the work to make this place an awesome bike park. I can't wait to see what else they build by the end of the summer. Go out and ride here. You won't be disappointed.
  • + 4
 "Since initial building started, there are now 12 trails open at Berkshire East equating to 12 miles of downhill" - It's taken stevens pass in washington state how many years to build 3 trails? Good for you all out east!
  • + 4
 @jlfskibikesail I don't know if Stevens Pass is USFS property but if it is based off of @TomPro comment and the conversation I had with the Gravity Logic guy at Thunder it takes a lot longer to get stuff done when they are involved. It sounds like part of Killington is on USFS which means it will take a lot longer for Gravity Logic to do what they want to with that mountain. I think we are just lucky that we now have two privately owned bike parks (Thunder and Highland) who can build whatever they want without any bureaucracy. It's also really awesome to see the East coast getting some love as we've got some pretty awesome terrain!
  • + 1
 @jlfskibikesail stevens was supposed to get new trails this year but because of the awful snow year they didn't have enough money to pay their trailbuilders and fired them all...
  • + 1
 I heard they have everything ready to build new trails. Funding and permits or whatever is good to go. But the mountian is for sale and theyre not gonna do anything with it for now. Idk just what i heard. This place looks rad. Way to have your shit together thunder mountain.
  • + 8
 That place looks awesome! Great job of revitalizing and going all in with Gravity Logic, renewable energy, lift, lodge, etc. Looks like they offer great options for all levels of riders, and stuff for non riders too. Southern California is home to one of the largest concentrations of mt bikers in the world, and we have nothing this good anywhere near us. No, Snow Summit isn't even close to comparable with its one jump run, one so-called "advanced" run and no true beginner or intermediate runs.
  • + 12
 Thanks for that comment herzalot, but in all fairness to Snow Summit, they have a lot planned for the future but are waiting for USFS approvals which can take a long time. Berkshire East is on private land so they do not need any USFS approvals and can build a good start to a bike park in two months. If SS was on private land they would have many more trails. Please be patient Smile
  • + 3
 Thanks for the reply @TomPro. It does some to be a bit of a bureaucratic mess up there at SS. I am grateful we have something, but they desperately need that green trail completed to separate the abilities and minimize injuries, and some challenging stuff that isn't just jumps. It's been two and a half years since they re-opened. I'm trying to be patient, but I am aging fast!!!!
  • + 5
 At Summit it's the California authorities screwing up the fun as usual.
They're worried a about a few more trails going in. Did they miss the fact that huge portions of the mountain were clear cut to make way for ski runs? Ridiculous!
The USFS seems to have such a biased and antiquated view of mtb here in Cali. Either that or it's just about job justification and making money for them.
  • + 8
 I have ridden three days at Thunder and have watched the lift accessed scene develop beginning with Mount Snow back in the days of the NORBA national championship. Thunder has it right, the mix of trials, the base facilities, the staff and the overall professional level of customer service. Up until now most of the New England areas kind of half-assed it and let the riders make the best of the situation. Of course there are exceptions (you know who they are), but Thunder has set the new standard. Great riding right from the opening day.
  • + 6
 So great to see a mom and pop ski area put such a big effort into the mountain bike scene. And being so close to home for me makes it even better. Looking forward to trying it out this Sunday.
  • + 1
 Dude, wish I could join you, place looks sick! Hope all is well on your end, mofo.
  • + 2
 Let's make it happen soon! I rode with Donnie about a month ago, and was asking about you and the other mofos. We should plan a day at Thunder.
  • + 5
 A very unique option for New England that fits in nicely with Highland and Burke. The potential here is huge but it is already worth the trip. I was skeptical during my first visit but left with an ear-to-ear grin after ripping it up in the rain. It feels a lot more like Crank It Up than Cat's Paw.
  • + 4
 For anyone planning on coming to Thunder, find one of us in the blue and green Thunder Mountain jerseys with the word GUIDE on the sleeve (we can be found around the lift and bike shop), tell us your riding experience and trail preferences (technical, smooth, steepness, etc), and we'll be happy to show you around the mountain!

We also have lessons available for anyone new to downhilling or wants to improve their riding. Level 1 (neutral riding position, braking, cornering) and Level 2 (drops, jumps, high speed cornering).
  • + 4
 Rode here on Sunday, and it was awesome. The blue trail (The Gronk) reminded me of Crank It Up in Whistler more than any other trail I've ridden at a bike park- and that's a good thing. There's no braking bumps, and the jumps are fun for any skill level.

The Schist will be an awesome DH race track. It's steep with tons of off-camber. It will be very interesting to ride it in the wet in a few years once it gets ridden in.

I can't wait to see what they come up with for the black DH trail.
  • + 4
 I think you guys are getting kW and kWh confused when describing the renewable sources. 500 kWh is only about half of an average home's monthly energy consumption. 500 kW is a pretty good sized array. Sorry to pedantic but I work in the industry and the difference between energy and power is important.
  • + 3
 If any of yall are looking to hook up with some people to ride here, check out 413RIDE on facebook. We are a local crew out of western mass, and we can probably put you up nearby fo free and we always love to shred with new people!
  • + 2
 i worked up there before it opened with the trail crew and its got potential as i got early access to it. and i have videos if anybody wants to see POV videos of the trails and what they are like! and its great since they are becoming big with whitewater rafting, mountain coaster, zip lining, skiing, etc! and i live 15 mins away heheehhe Razz they are building trails throughout the summer and over the years, as they are thinking of making this huge, and since there are minor complaints of trails with pedaling required, of which i dont see a prob for just opening up and a small mountain!
  • + 2
 Visited on Sunday. Super friendly crew, instructor Andy guided my son and I on first two runs. Love Gronk and Billy Badger. Bring your friends new to DH here. I'm excited to see how mountain develops over the next couple of years.
  • + 2
 Very excited about this, would be great if we had some very strong backing and exposure for these guys, something like this was due for people that live in CT and MA. Granted there is Mtn Creek and Highland , but if these guys can pull off some sick trails , and offer what these long established companies are doing now then they will have a great future. Good luck and hopefully see you this year for a rip.
  • + 1
 +1 'ed
I grew up central CT, now I live in Southeastern CT. I've been hoping someone else up north would do something like this. I absolutely love Plattekill but I also love VT (Family had a house there for 30+ years). I wouldn't mind paying my roommate to watch the farm for a day so I could head up with my family and friends.
  • + 5
 More photos of that Unimog!
  • + 2
 i.imgur.com/PaXGZja.jpg
i.imgur.com/VqqlmWW.jpg

A local bike shop owns it. I saw it up close at the D2R2 last year.
  • + 1
 Awesome, thanks. Love the top hatch.
  • + 1
 Fun place was there this past saturday. Behind the shack and thunder cliffs were a bit wet and greasy still with ruts developing. The schist is awesome now steep and off camber with a lot of loam. Will be interesting when loam gets packed down on the schist. Joes world out back needs a little attention and would be a killer enduro trail. This mountain has the terrain for an enduro race. However the mountain would have to shut down for the day not enough terrain yet like blue mtn enduro did. Will be back again keep up the good work!!!
  • + 2
 This place is great; went there for opening weekend and had an absolute blast. Can't wait to go back; and since this is only a little over an hour from me, I can definitely see myself getting a season pass in the future.
  • + 1
 Rode there yesterday and it totally exceeded my expectations. Don't tell anyone, but this might be the best bike park in the East right now, especially if you like groomed, flow-style trails like Jester. The hand built stuff was excellent, too. Fewer big features compared to Highland, but I wasn't riding that shiz anyway. The vert is also noticeably bigger than Burke or Highland. The runs felt about twice as long. Bonus, I think there were 11 people riding yesterday, not counting the bike patrol (bp was keeping a tally at the top of the lift)
  • + 1
 @VtVolk I'm not sure if you saw it when you were there but you can peak at some of the big jumps on the Black jumpline they are building and they look legit! If you look to the right at the end of Gronk when it funnels into the green trail you can see a few of them. So excited to see the new stuff the open up as the year goes on. Definitely agree with you that its quickly become the best in the east! also the double black DH run is sick and should cut in really nice over time!
  • + 1
 went Monday with 2 buddies and my 11 yr old! we all didn't know what to expect,but heard good things and we weren't disappointed!! from a fun warm up ride down the green to lots of fun on the blues,and my son loved the gronk! the trails were well built for every level and in great shape! very lucky to have highland,killington and mt snow close,but this is even closer from central ct! there will be many more trips soon!
  • + 3
 Here's a GoPro run down their jump trail made by Gravity Logic:

www.pinkbike.com/video/415412
  • + 1
 great guys here. Friend needed wpr on his bike and one of the guys gave him his bike to ride while his bike was being worked on. Met tyler conrand on the trails and we all just shreeded together
  • + 2
 Super nice folks in the shop, but bring your own supplies. I think I bought the last 26" tube they had yesterday.
  • + 2
 I work in the shop and as a bike guide/instructor. The shop is just getting itself together, more parts (especially tubes) will be in there shortly!
  • + 2
 Micky helped us out. Great guy
  • + 1
 2.5 hours from me and not far out of the way on a trip to Highland? Yup, I'll likely be riding here a few times a year at least.
  • + 2
 Strong work boys, looking forward to putting some laps in next time I'm home.
  • + 2
 Epic.!!.. another big mountain option for New England...Gravity Logic is CRUSHING the EAST!!
  • + 2
 Thunder Bike Park is AWESOME.
  • + 3
 The Gronk !!
  • + 1
 It's great to see this kind of stuff happening in at The B.east!
  • + 1
 Cannot express how excited for this!!!!!!!!! Super day-tripable from NYC.
  • + 1
 GET HIM TO THE GRONK
  • + 1
 such a fun ride

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