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This is what it’s like to snowboard down Vermont’s highest peak

Snowboarding on Mount Mansfield
Mark Reif on Profanity Chute Unknown

For the versatile freerider, Stowe Mountain Resort has a little bit of everything. Set amongst the rolling topography of Mount Mansfield, the ski area’s terrain varies from gentle to extreme, with easy groomers, narrow chutes, and everything in between. It’s the perfect venue to hone your skills and harvest fresh powder.

On a typical day, I’ll load the Four Runner Quad at 8:00 a.m., cruise some mellow corduroy on Lord and Jake’s Ride, and then gradually up the challenge as the day progresses. That involves hitting the Front Four steeps of Liftline, Goat, Starr, and National and taking laps through the park. But when I want to push it, I’ll step through the backcountry gates and hike to Vermont’s highest peak: The Chin of Mount Mansfield.

So, what’s it like riding down the highest point in Vermont? Read on to find out.

Mount Mansfield: An Overview

Morning Alpenglow on Mount Mansfield
Alpenglow on Mount Mansfield Mark Reif

In the morning, as I drive west on Rt. 108 — or Mountain Road — toward Mt Mansfield, its iconic profile looks up at the sky. Viewed from left to right, there’s a subtle forehead, nose, lips, chin, and Adam’s apple. On an ideal winter morning, as the sun rises, a peach Alpenglow drapes the peaks, light dancing off the snow on the trees. At 4,393 ft, Mansfield towers over the surroundings, its hulking presence lining the horizon. A special sight, to say the least.

The Chin marks Mansfield’s high point, reaching into the blue and looking higher than its elevation suggests. Atop The Chin, one of the last remaining alpine tundras, survives from the Ice Ages, making a journey there akin to exploring an ancient world. Weathered rock and hardy vegetation are like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Thick trees—including beech, fir, red spruce, balsam fir, maple, and birch—line the slopes, creating amusing glade runs reminiscent of an obstacle course. After a snowstorm, branches look as if covered in cake frosting, drooping from the weight of the crystals.

While Mansfield isn’t the biggest mountain — less than half the height of 10,000 ft+ peaks out west — it feels much higher. Its eons-old summit creates an experience like I’ve never felt, even when exploring hike-to terrain in the Rocky Mountains. It’s just different

Journey to The Chin of Mt Mansfield

Mount Mansfield Chin covered in snow
The Chin of Mount Mansfield Mark Reif

Hiking to The Chin takes work and persistence, but it’s one of the finer experiences I’ve had on a snowboard. From the sights to the emotions to the descent, the journey up and down is an adventure worth taking. This is what it’s like.

Venturing beyond the gates

Resort boundary gate Mount Mansfield
Stowe’s resort boundary sign Mark Reif

My most recent trip to The Chin occurred last weekend. It was a bluebird day, fresh off a two-day snowstorm — about as good as it gets. Starting at 8:00 a.m., I took some morning laps off the Four Runner Quad before visiting my car and grabbing my backcountry pack. Then I headed for the gondola, which opened at 9:00 a.m.

The gondola — with its recognizable bright red cabins — took me far up the mountain to the foot of The Chin, where I’d have to do the rest of the work. Upon exiting, I fastened my board to my pack, slung it over my shoulders, and stepped through the resort boundary, where an ominous sign warned of its unpatrolled, hazardous nature.

Entering another world

Bootpack on the Climbing Gully
The Climbing Gully Mark Reif

As soon as I passed through, the world changed. Now, in untouched, tight woodlands, I meandered left and right on a mostly flat pitch. It wasn’t that difficult, as I got used to the weight on my back and prepared for the climb.

Then, things got interesting. Up ahead, the Climbing Gully turned upward, the ridgeline in the distance, showing how far I’d need to climb. The bootpack wound through an open swath, with rock outcroppings and alpine trees forming a picturesque amphitheater for my ascent.

Step after step, I had to carefully position each boot in the bootpack, or risk sinking up to my knee in the deep snow. I would climb for about 30 seconds, rest for 20, and so on. I wanted to enjoy the hike and wasn’t in the mood to push myself too hard. 

During my rests, I’d take in the surroundings. Pure awe. The way the powder surface is whipped by the wind and how the trees — large and small — hold snow is pure magic. The sun lights it up, bringing it all together.

At some points, I’d want to stop, unsure if the bootpack had adequate traction or if the effort was worth it. But people in front and behind me kept going, so I did, too. Before long, I was at the ridgeline. 

The mystique of the alpine tundra 

Alpine Tundra on Mount Mansfield
Alpine Tundra atop Mount Mansfield Image used with permission by copyright holder

This is where Mt Mansfield shines. The alpine tundra has an otherworldly, mysterious quality unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s enchanting. Worn and weathered vegetation peeks through the snow. Rock formations look from another planet. Fields of snow roll and undulate, with ridges formed by winds over the summit. 

I kept snapping pictures and taking my time. Before long, I reached my entry point, Profanity Chute. 

The ride down Profanity Chute

The entrance to Profanity Chute
Entrance to Profanity Chute Mark Reif

I love to snowboard at Stowe Mountain Resort. But sometimes, I yearn for bigger terrain, with giant, steep faces and harrowing drops. Atop The Chin, Profanity Chute satisfies that need with a brief yet intense ride. 

The chute is reminiscent of a funnel, with a wide opening that narrows into a winding swatch, leading into dense glades. After dropping in, I make quick pivots, spraying snow and dodging obstacles in my path. About halfway down, there’s a series of dense rocks and shrubs, forcing a pause and hop turns to make it through.

Entering the forest

The forest on The Chin
Glades off The Chin Mark Reif

Once I’ve negotiated that, a classic Vermont adventure unfolds. I wind left through a snaking strip before entering tight glades. Like a banked slalom course, I turn left and right against snow banks, ducking under branches and changing direction on a dime.

In this untouched environment, I wonder what it was like for Vermont’s first skiers before fancy lodges and high-speed chairlifts — just the snow, the mountain, and the glide. Deep in the forest, things are pure and untouched, putting me in touch with my snowboard soul. 

At times, it can get worrisome in the woods as I try to find the exit point back to the main trails. There are no signs other than prior tracks, and I have to focus on staying on course. I’ve had quick moments of concern, but I find my way before long.

Returning to the resort 

Glades exit to Chin Clip
The return to Chin Clip Mark Reif

Finally, after a fun yet intense ride through the trees, an opening appeared. Indicating the entrance to the Chin Clip trail, it was my ticket back to civilization. Then, the endorphins began flowing. A high started, a relief set in, and a sense of accomplishment came over me.

Hiking The Chin isn’t a momentous backcountry feat. With a less than 1,000 ft climb, it’s a small excursion compared to those of serious uphill enthusiasts. But it feels much bigger. The ancient topography, remote feel, and stunning vistas are among the finest I’ve experienced. You just have to try it.

The Chin of Mt Mansfield: a pure snowboarding experience

Tundra on The Chin
Alpine Tundra on The Chin Mark Reif

I’m a lifelong snowboarder. In the early years, the sport encompassed fun and exploration. As time passed, there was a greater focus on technical acumen, with a race to see who could spin the furthest or win the most medals. Today, sometimes, it feels closer to a gymnastics competition than a soulful mountain experience. While that’s not necessarily bad, it takes away from the sport’s original purpose: joy. Hiking and riding The Chin takes me to those early days and reminds me why I love to snowboard.

Four-time World Champion and legendary freerider Craig Kelly said it best:

 “While I will always have the utmost respect for the superhuman out-of-bounds freestyle and extreme stunts that seem to continually progress beyond our imaginable limits, my highest appreciation goes out to the simple rider who’s out there just for the experience. Taking in the mountains rates ever higher to me than the mark we make on them, and the people who do that the best are the ones I most wish to emulate.”

Hiking and riding Mt. Mansfield is an unforgettable snowboarding experience. Whether the Ice Age surroundings or the challenging descent, The Chin has everything you can ask for and then some. If you decide to venture out, remember, never go alone, and study the routes before walking through the gate. Afterward, you’ll be glad you made the journey.

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Mark Reif
Mark Reif is a writer from Stowe, Vermont. During the winter, he works as a snowboard coach and rides more than 100 days. The…
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