What's not to love about Wildcat? Classic trails like Polecat and Lynx that wind past million-dollar views of Tuckerman Ravine and Mt. Washington; a down-home, hard-skiing attitude; ticket deals; powder when others get rain; and now, as if that's not enough, a super-fast quad that zips you to the top of the 4,062-foot peak in a mere six minutes. That's why it won gold medals for Scenery, Snow, Terrain and Challenge. Wildcat-basic, hardy, historical-is the Mad River of New Hampshire...but with modern lifts. What keeps this gem from higher rankings? Well, Wildcat faces Mt. Washington, where sometimes frigid air doth blow. "Can be bitter cold and windy," a reader says. No big deal; you just dress for it. Or take up television. Wildcat's ranking also suffers from modern expectations. Back when it was built, skiers slept happily in ski dorms and ate at diners. Now we want gourmet dining and nightclubs next door to our on-mountain condos. But Wildcat sits on federal land, which means management must apply for permission even to cut trees and will probably never be able to build hotels or restaurants. "Almost no development around the mountain," one reader correctly states. "No après-ski," says another. But Wildcat's fans realize that Conway and Gorham, loaded with shops, bars, inns and restaurants, are both within half an hour. And they appreciate the quiet, natural setting and the excellent backcountry opportunities, including a much-expanded telemark program. "Wildcat delivers old-fashioned skiing," says one wise reader. "It's the most underrated resort I've been to."
WHAT'S NEW A speedier ticketing system; live music on Wednesdays and Saturdays; Sunday pig roasts.
A GOOD DEAL Two-for-one Wednesdays, and a Sunday-to-Friday season pass for $399.
MEDALS GOLD Scenery, Snow, Terrain, Challenge; SILVER Grooming, Value.
HIGH/LOW RANK Scenery (1), Snow (12), Terrain (20); Family Programs (57), Weather (64), Service (65).
DON'T MISS Libby's Bistro in Gorham: eclectic big-city cuisine with backwoods prices and small-town warmth; 603-466-5330.
READER REMARKS (+) "One of the best places in the East."
(-) "Unexciting lodge; mediocre food."