Monday was a Wildcat day. Let me explain. Over the years. I have learned to ski Wildcat only on days when Mount Washington towers sharp and clear across Route 16 as it traverses Pinkham Notch. Fortunately, you can learn this from any high point in Maine where you can see the Northeast’s tallest mountain.

When I lived on Paris Hill I could drive to the end of my street and see if the Big One was in the clear. That was often the determining factor in whether I chose to head for Pinkham Notch to ski Wildcat or, later in the season, to climb into Tuckerman Ravine after the lifts had closed.

Last Monday I relied on the weather forecasts and headed west from my home in Westbrook. I hoped they were right about the clear skies and ignored their warnings about the cold. (It was in the teens and I didn’t need a hat to ski.) I had a backup plan. If I couldn’t see Mount Washington before I got to North Conway, I could choose Cranmore, but I really wanted to get back to Wildcat. Somewhere along Route 113 before I got to Fryeburg, I topped a rise and our tallest peak was sharp and clear in the distance. Wildcat became my destination.

That’s what makes a Wildcat day. Sure, it’s a fine mountain and I have fond memories of the area where I actually passed my professional ski patrol ski-and-toboggan certification exam. But the day is only complete if you can stop along the trails and be taken in by the startling views across the Notch.

Monday it was in sharp relief. The peak stood clear against a cloudless blue ski. There wasn’t even the usual snow cloud formed by high winds blowing snow off the summit. Across the way, we looked into Tuckerman Ravine, Huntington Ravine, Oakes Gulf, the Gulf of Slides and the snowfields. We could pick out the famous runs, Hillman Highway, the Headwall, the Chute and the Right and Left Gullies. It was all there, almost as if we could reach out and touch the steep pitches.

On my arrival, I contacted Tom Prindle, the guy in charge of press relations. He’s among the folks who love to see me coming. It gives them an excuse to get out of the office to show me around the mountain, although his boss, GM Tom Caughey, whom I knew when he was a patrolman at Wildcat, might look askance at the idea of my needing a guide at one of my favorite mountains. Still, Tom was a big help. He knew exactly what had been groomed and kept us moving around, starting with a easy cruise on Snowcat one of the better beginner runs in the White Mountains.

From there, it was a quick warmup run to the Bobcat triple and a run down the wide trail by the same name. Ready for the top we took the Quad, which replaced the old gondola (It has gondola cars for summer use.) and headed for the summit. For the next hour we hit trails like Wildcat, Catapult and Linx, narrow meandering runs that typify Wildcat skiing. Unfortunately, Upper Polecat was closed for snowmaking to cover some ice left over from the earlier thaw, so we couldn’t take what is one of the East’s best novice runs from the summit.

I also had time to learn how things were going under the new ownership. The mountain was recently purchased by Peak Resorts, a family-owned company that also owns Attitash and Mount Snow. He noted a new winch cat and more snow guns as the biggest changes along with new uniforms for staff. With no private land, Wildcat has no lodging possibilities, but being in the same family as Attitash with an interchangeable lift ticket helps. Joint marketing is already underway. It will be fun watching how this develops.

Part of any visit to Pinkham Notch is just being near Mount Washington, and the discussion of lodging led me to head up the road for a visit to the Glen House, the headquarters for Great Glen Trails and the Auto Road. I got a look at an architect’s rendering of a planned new hotel. The project has all the approvals and is simply waiting for funding. It will be on the Mount Washington side of the road, giving guests immediate access to the cross country trails. I’m sure packaging with Wildcat is in the plans.

Another attraction is the chance to take a SnowCoach tour up the Auto Road. Actually being on Mount Washington in winter is a rare treat, one I didn’t have time for that day, but I know from past experience that there is no place like it in the Northeast. These all-wheel-drive vans are especially equipped with tracks and carry passengers in comfort to 4,200 feet, right near the timberline. Combine a day at Wildcat with this trip and it would be quite a day.


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