Mount Mansfield is a popular destination for outdoor sports in Vermont. It’s both the state’s high point and one of its best ski resorts. In winter, it’s a prime destination for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. This outing takes you on a snowshoe traverse of the Mount Mansfield ridge from north to south.
The most popular way up Mount Mansfield is by the western side, from the Underhill State Park. However, the trailhead can’t be reached in winter, which adds an extra road walk of 3 miles round trip. The shortest way to reach the summit in winter becomes the Long Trail from the Stowe Mountain Resort.
The Long Trail lies a few hundred yards north of the parking area, which is located at the very end of route VT-108 at the plow turnaround. There is no approach in this trail; the ascent is constant and moderately steep. It doesn’t have any technical sections, however, and it makes for a great forest walk. The only challenge in winter might be following the white blazes painted on the trees, which are often partially snow covered. While this section of the woods has no official ski trails, it is popular with backcountry skiers.
Taft Lodge is reached after 1.7 miles. It provides shelter for backpackers and hikers for a few dollars, but it is closed in winter. It offers no services, so anyone spending the night there should bring all their gear.
The intersection with the ridge lies less than a half mile from the lodge. To the north, the Adam’s Apple (4,060 feet) is the first stop of the day. It marks the northern end of the ridge, as well as the bottom part of the “man’s face.” When looking at Mansfield’s ridge from the distance, it has the appearance of a face, and all bumps and peaks are named after anatomical features of a face.
On the way to the Adam’s Apple, the views are excellent in all directions, as they are everywhere on the ridge. The short descent back to the intersection is followed by a steeper ascent to the Chin, the ridge’s high point at 4,393 feet. Views are again excellent in all directions. These parts are quite rocky, and crampons or traction can be more comfortable than snowshoes, especially in icy conditions.
South of the Chin, the Lower Lip (4,120 feet) and Upper Lip (3,964 feet) are minor bumps that are barely noticeable. The next prominent part of the ridge is the Nose (4,062 feet), which is located just after the visitor center and the road that leads to the summit. Rest assured, the road is closed in winter, so solitude is not threatened. There are radio towers on the Nose, but there are still nice views to be had.
Finally, the last stop of the day is the Forehead (3,940 feet), which can be difficult to reach in winter when the trail is unbroken. It is only a short detour of less than a mile round trip from the Nose and offers excellent views.
From the Forehead, retrace your steps to the road that was crossed just before the Nose. Down the road, and just before the chair lift, the Haselton Trail veers left into the woods. It descends back directly to the ski resort and minutes from the parking area. It does cross ski slopes a few times and follows them most of the way down, so this trail must be used with caution.
Overall, this is an excellent outing that is worth the effort even when there are no views. The woods are beautiful and it’s always a treat to be on the Mansfield ridge.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.