Steepest Ski Trail in New Jersey - Pipeline, Mountain Creek

Located in the northwest corner of Northern New Jersey, more precisely the Vernon Township, sits 1040 vertical feet of a ski resort, known as Mountain Creek Ski Resort.  The resort is located 47 miles from New York City, making it the closest ski resort to Manhattan, thus it is probably one of the busiest ski areas in the nation. 

Mountain Creek is home to the only open air gondola in the US.  In 1998, the first year under Interwest ownership, Mountain Creek installed a Dopplemayer high-speed eight-passenger open-air gondola, known as The Cabriolet.  The lift is basically a bucket with no seats, much like a tram, up to eight skiers hold on to their equipment while standing and taking the journey to the top of the mountain.  The lift is open air and provides no protection from the elements. For those of you who have visited Mont Tremblant, the lift is identical to the Cabriolet gondola in the Pedestrian Village.

Mountain Creek caters to all people whether they ski or ride or not.  The resort is home to the nation’s largest snow tubing park with 30 tubing lanes, the world’s largest Slip ‘N Slide and the world’s tallest and only double-looping waterslide, so even if your buddies don’t ski or ride there is plenty to do at Mountain Creek.

In Ehukai Beach Park on Oahu's North Shore is an area that is notoriously known for huge waves that form hollow curls of water where the surfers can shoot the tube.  This deadly wave, known as the Banzai Pipeline, averages 9 feet tall waves and the break has killed more surfers than any other surf spot in the world. While Pipeline at Mountain Creek can’t really be compared to the Banzai Pipeline, that comparison is better left to trails like Delirium Dive (Sunshine Village), Couloir de Polichinelle (La Grave, France), Body Bag (Crested Butte) and Corbet’s Couloir (Jackson Hole).  However, Pipeline at Mountain Creek does share a name with the famous surf spot.

Pipeline is the only double black diamond at Mountain Creek and is the undisputed nastiest trail on the mountain.  The history of this trail is sketchy, but it was initially part of Great Gorge and was allegedly harder “back in the day”, however it is unclear why it may have been harder such as narrower, ungroomed, bulldozed irregularities out of the terrain.  There is documentation in a 1988 edition of SKI Magazine that the trail was reopening, which may coincide with the taming of the trail in order to navigate a snow cat up the trail for grooming. In the past, the trail was called Upper and Lower Pipeline, today it is referred to just as Pipeline and the lower portion is part of a condominium complex.  This trail is very similar in steepness, width and length to other well-known trails such as Upper Skyward (Whiteface) and Alexander Dispatie (Mont Chantecler), both of which are signature runs at their respective mountains and have been used for major competitions. Upper Skyward was the start of the women’s downhill at the 1980 Olympics and Alexander Dispatie was used for the 2016 Sports Experts Speed Nation National Championships.  Additionally, the trail has a steeper sustained pitch, over 300 ft, at 29.01 degrees than such notable trails as: Gondy Line Ext (Sugarloaf), Shock Wave (Sunday River), Cloudspin (Whiteface), Black Magic (Magic Mountain) and Goat (Stowe) – yes Goat! To be clear Pipeline isn’t anywhere near as hard as any of the trails listed because it is groomed, doesn’t have a double fall line like Cloudspin and Goat and rock ledges like Black Magic and Goat and is much wider than Goat and Black Magic.  However, what does make Pipeline difficult is it is generally as icy as Madison Square Garden on a night the Rangers play, due to the southern location of the mountain, the amount of man-made snow (Mountain Creek has 1000 snow guns) and the number of “yahoos” who attempt to go down the only double black diamond on the mountain. There are two options to best experience New Jersey’s steepest trail in all its glory. First, wait for fresh snow and go mid-week during the day before the schools and ski clubs arrive.  Second, and the better option since Mountain Creek only averages 65” of snow per year, is to get out your tungsten carbide file and bevel tool and put an edge on your ski that could cut a ribeye.

The point being, the trail should not be disregarded just because it isn’t as hard or deadly has its name sake in Hawaii or because the trail is located in the “winter paradise” of New Jersey.