Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s Seductive Highpoint

There is something special about Vermont’s highest point. Mansfield may not be as high as many White Mountain or Adirondack peaks, but it has a low treeline, lake-effect deep snowfall, a ridge perfect for collecting windblown snow on the east side, and plenty of cool terrain features on its rocky side.

Mount Mansfield sits 4,363′ (1340m) above sea level, and a full 4260+ feet above nearby Lake Champlain. Champlain is the Northeast’s most spectacular large lake and it is nestled between the mile-high Adirondacks and the linear 4000’ ridges of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Full of backcountry ski history:

Mount Mansfield’s ski history goes back a long way. Ski trails (both sanctioned and illegal) were trimmed off this long ridge since the 1930s. Alpine skiing’s roots are in backcountry skiing, and backcountry skiing had a critical mass in this region of Northern Vermont since the first major growth of skiing in the US.

Skiing’s first major growth spurt occurred as a result of mass media. The 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid New York were attended by a small group of rugged ski athletes in each category, however as a result of the national radio broadcasts they would soon be joined by hundreds of thousands of new skiers who gained interest in the sport over the rest of the 1930s. Vermont evolved as the ideal place to ski in the Northeast due to factors such as easy train access, good snow, plenty of mountains with over 2000′ of vertical and historic small towns to house tourists coming in from the cities.

How about some ice skating in Burlington for an après-ski activity. Lake Champlain sits at about 98′ above sea level.

Skiing Mansfield’s summit:

I first skied Mount Mansfield in 2001. The “Nose” part of the Mansfield Massif (on the north side) stuck out like a shining jewel above the Stowe Ski area. While Stowe has some notorious fun trails like Nosedive, nothing was a bigger attraction than getting out-of-bounds to ski off the summit ridge. The steepest and most narrow chute coming off the summit was amazing, coming to a narrow point a few feet wide before shooting out into an apron. Other easier chutes dropped off to the southeast.

Looking northeast toward the rocky chutes of Smugglers Notch and its legendary ice climbing far below

It was great considering this peak ticked off the list of Northeast Highpoints in 2001, however something about the peak just brought me back again. The view of Whiteface and the other Adirondacks on the other side of Lake Champlain was just awesome in low humidity days, the 300 inches of lake effect snow is just wonderful, and at least to me the peak seems less windy than other ranges in the Northeast. On Mansfield you can sometimes watching the best local backcountry freestyle skiers and snowboarders launch off of 30 or 60’ cliffs.

In addition to a great summit area at the Nose, Mount Mansfield is big and extends a full mile to the south where great views and lines can be had off the “Chin”. The Chin has an old CCC backcountry ski trail coming off of it that is separate from Stowe’s trails.

On the north side of Mansfield is the Smuggler’s Notch area which has some of the best ice climbing in the Northeast (which is among the best in the country). I skied on some of the skiable chutes and lines over in this area in years after the initial Mansfield summit ski, one could spend a day over there doing laps.

Mansfield is a must for beginning backcountry skiers in the Northeast:

When it comes to skiing Northeastern Highpoints Mansfield is not really remote. Expect a few people around on a nice day up there. Everywhere you look you’ll see ski trails, roads, and noises from the ski area echo in the air even when you are far from the people below.

I think Mansfield just could be the best full-sized peak for beginning backcountry skiers while still offering steep fun terrain for experienced trip leaders. For beginners it is less intimidating to ski with a ski area in visual distance, and they can avoid tough tree skiing  by connecting with existing Stowe trails as they head out of the summit area. I guess you could really call this sidecountry, not backcountry.

Easy slopes off of Mansfield’s summit make it accessible to beginners as long as the weather is good.

It’s a good mountain for beginning backcountry skiers, but has dangerous spots:

On Mansfield, a lot of people are rescued, and a few die. Clouds can hit the summit suddenly without warning as you can’t see over to the west. I’ve seen the summit in total whiteout conditions with high winds that cover your tracks in seconds. There are plenty of cliffs off the ridge, so being able to navigate back to developed trails is important. Skiing straight down off the summit and below treeline takes you into challenging tight trees and backcountry trails, some of which take you miles away from the ski area. Solid ski skills and having a trip leader with a good sense of direction is necessary. Mansfield is a prerequisite for skiing any other four or five thousand footers in the Northeast. All other peaks in the Adirondacks and Whites are less forgiving.

Here are a few incidents:

2017 Snowboarder dies after missing on Stowe

2010 Rescue for skiers who went off the wrong side of Mansfield

2004 Meathead Films skier dies after getting hit with avalanche and being pushed off a cliff

Treasured heights?

Mansfield sits inside the Mount Mansfield State Forest. The area is protected however the hand of mankind has clearly already made its mark here. The largest threat to the remaining wild forest here comes from real estate development and expansion of corporate ski areas. Backcountry skiers get in trouble for tree trimming here (after all it’s a 90 year tradition) however the real focus of constituents and government efforts should be directed at protecting areas like the east side of Mansfield at Underhill and other lower slopes of the mountain which still remain under private hands, and therefore under threat.

The east side of Mansfield, the Chin is on the left, the Nose is poking into the clouds, Smugglers Notch lines begin on the far right. In this article I refer to the actual Smuggler’s Notch formation, not the ski area with the same name located a few miles away.

The “Best” Northeastern Highpoint?

Mansfield gets an ‘A’ for quality terrain. The snow quality is generally really good, however there are periods of glaze ice. No one should be miffed about highlighting Mansfield here as it is no secret, 10s of thousands of skiers see the off-piste terrain each month as they ride up the lifts. Mansfield gets a good grade on both quantity of snow, and quality of powder. When other state highpoints like Mount Greylock is too thin, Mount Washington is under hurricane force winds, and Katahdin is too far and too cold, Mansfield is the friendly giant that always has something to offer.  I know I’ll be heading back there soon.

MOUNTAIN FACTS:

Name/s: Mount Mansfield, also people refer to “The Chin” and “The Nose” to specify which peak they are talking about. The entire ridge is called Mount Mansfield. The Nose has the actual summit.
Land:
Mount Mansfield State Forest
Elevation: 4393 feet
Vertical: 2863′ (east side)
Flora and fauna: spruce subalpine forests, hardwoods, alpine tundra
Conservation threats: real estate development is a serious threat to the entire Stowe valley
Original owners: Abenaki tribe

AVY RESOURCES:

There are no official avalanche forecasts for this region. People discuss avalanche conditions sporadically on Facebook groups. Slides can occur in open hardwood forests as well as the steep open chutes and streambeds of Mansfield and Smugglers Notch.

 

Plenty of wooded powder lines with ski and snowboard history all over Vermont. Burton Snowboards started in Manchester and is now located in Burlington, close to Mount Mansfield.

VIDEOS:

While I’ve shot video in the backcountry here since 2001, I will be doing a re-shoot in HD this season of 2018. Like and contact Treasured Heights on Facebook if you are interested in joining the effort.

Meathead Films and Ski the East are brands which have used Mount Mansfield many times for their shoots. They have some really cool full length films (20 min to 2 hrs).


More articles:

Skiing the Adirondacks in the age of Film

 

Connecticut’s Mt. Frissell


 

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