Wildcat Mountain is a skier’s mountain. Located in the White Mountain National Forest, the resort is devoid of the slope side condominiums, luxury hotels, and golf courses that comprise a significant aspect of many resorts. Here at Wildcat there is a base lodge, some utility shacks, and the mountain. It is a refreshing study in the way things used to be – pure and simple. Wildcat makes no pretenses – if it’s golf you desire, this is not the place to be. If you are looking for skiing – pure, unadulterated, and exhilarating, then this is the place for you.
Wildcat is definitely a vertical mountain. It doesn’t sprawl out across eight or nine different summits. You don’t spend all day riding from chair to chair. There’s just one summit, and what a summit. At 4,062 feet it stares directly across Pinkham Notch at the summit cone of Mount Washington, which features the highest elevation in the northeast and wildest weather in the world. This is not a mountain for the faint of heart. On a good day, it is truly magnificent. I have been there on many good days, and quite a few wild ones. This particular day in late February sported bright sunshine and temperatures that breached the freezing mark – at least in the parking lot. The Wildcat Express Quad elevated me the 2112 vertical feet to the summit in 6 minutes flat. I barely had time to revel in the solitude of my pristine surroundings. When I reached the summit I soaked in a panorama of the Switzerland of America. Directly in front as I disembarked the chair were the villages of Jackson and Bartlett, where, on a good day, I can look at my ski house. To my back, though, was the real show – the south snowfields of Mount Washington with a full open view of the ravines – Tuckerman’s and Huntington. With the summits of Mounts Adams and Jackson lurking to the north, you are looking at a picture that few can rival. Bring your camera!
There are six basic trails off the summit of Wildcat – each branching into a network of trails like arteries branching into capillaries. There are 48 trails in all, each an experience unto itself. I took a warm-up run down Lynx, just to the north of the chair. The older trails here are named with a cat motif. Lynx is a moderately steep blue trail that winds its way from top to bottom, passing just by the Express Quad and under the Tomcat Triple. The corduroy crisply crushes under my edges as I scream down the trail. In the early morning with the trail empty, it skis fast, like a GS course. Trees and lifts fly by until I’m staring at the loading Quad, grinning from ear to ear. After a 6-minute rest in the nicely padded Quad chair I choose my next route: Lift Lion to Black Cat to Catwalk to Panther to The Chutes. This route goes right down Broadway, the center of the mountain. Now, the center of this mountain is generally reserved for the Good, the Brave, and the Foolhardy. Most of the trails are not groomed and several, like Black Cat, feature a pitch that comes close to Tuckerman’s, punctuated with Volkswagen-sized moguls. I swooped down Lift Lion, with crisp whales that could be carved with a sharp edge. Then over to Black Cat and it’s titanic bumps. I don’t exactly bust those bumps with aplomb, but I make it down without incident. Note to self: wait until the bumps on the upper mountain soften a bit before trying again, perhaps after noon! Panther is a bit more inviting, although a little scratchy from constant use. Still, who can resist a gently sloping bump trail that passes under the lift! The Chutes is short but sweet – decent snow and nice bumps – and now I’m looking at the chair again, heart pumping.
Next time down I take Catapult – just on the other side of the chair from Lynx. Upper Catapult is a groomed cruiser that gives way to a steeper section in the middle of the mountain. Although it goes top to bottom, I take Catwalk across through Hainsville Pass, and find the mountain’s sweet spot. Wildcat always has a sweet spot – it’s just a matter of finding what you want. On this fine February day it’s the soft rolling bumps of Caternary. This trail spans half of the mountain’s vertical, and today it skis like a dream. The snow is soft and the bumps are fun. Caternary can be reached by virtually every trail off the summit. It is sheltered from the wind, and almost never groomed. I ski it over and over many different ways – attacking with abandon, swooping gracefully, or just generally cruising, taking different routes to get to it. This day I ran its course so many times, I nearly forgot about the other 40 some odd trails.
As the sun rises higher in the southeast, its warm rays delightfully drenching me with good Karma, I decide to head in for lunch. In the base lodge you can grab a bite cafeteria style, or you can treat yourself to a sit down lunch in the restaurant. The food is simple and reasonably priced and the help friendly. I order the chicken Caesar spinach rollup and a Red Hook draught, and Jen serves it with a smile. Jen is a local gal who always has a smile on her face and something cheery to say. I sit near the window and watch them ski The Chutes. Some are bold and daring, some meek. Some are smooth, others a bundle of arms and legs. So much fun it is to watch!
After lunch I try the trails off the Bobcat Triple. This is an older chair that runs about a thousand feet vertical and primarily services four blue cruisers: Lower Catapult, Bobcat, Cheetah, and lower Wildcat. In addition there is one little gem right under the chair called Copy Cat. It is bumped with a modest slope much like panther, only shorter, but sweet indeed! Three of the other four trails over here ski similarly – steep at the top with a bit of run-out at the bottom. Ski them fast and hard and feel the adrenaline rush! Lower Wildcat is a little different, dropping steeply and leveling a bit over and over again, like a series of cascades rushing down the mountain. After playing here for a while, I head over through Hainesville again, down Cougar, towards the Quad. Cougar is soft with gentle baby moguls kicked up in the morning. I love its banked sides. Forget the fall line on this trail – all the fun is swinging back and forth like a pendulum – up one side and down the other constantly rushing downward. Woohoo!
Daylight is now on the wane and as the quad whisks me up again I can feel the cool breeze against my face. I have time for two or three more runs tops. I start with upper Wildcat, by this time a little crunchy and fast – requiring a little more edge to control my speed. Curvy, steep, varied terrain makes the upper part of this trail interesting. I cascade down lower Wildcat, zooming past the triple and back to the quad. One more run down Lynx, screaming down the stiff packed powder that typifies an afternoon here. Although not exactly soft, my edges bite the surface effectively, carving white swirls from top to bottom. I save Polecat for my last run – a cool off run. Polecat is a green that skis, at least in places, like a blue. It is a refreshing contrast from some of the other trails, soft loose powder still clinging to its surface. I savor the scenery as I meander down this gentle trail, which eventually returns me to the base lodge.
I racked my skis and headed back to the lodge for copious libation (more Red Hooks, of course) and contemplation of my day. It had been a good day. I experienced it all – steeps, bumps, cruisers; I even made some turns in the Mount Jag glades. How many vertical miles had I skied? Let’s see, a mile for each two and a half runs, and how many runs did I make? On the good days I always lose track, and that’s what happened today. The snow ranged from soft and sweet to hard and fast. It was eastern all-mountain skiing at its best. As the Red Hook doused the fire in my thighs, I wistfully reflected, “If only every day could be like today!”