Let's get this straight: You don't go to Wildcat to be coddled. You go there to ski. There are no boutique hotels or fancy restaurants. Aside from no-frills facilities, there's no development at all. And if you go, dress for warmth. Wildcat can be bitterly cold and windy. OK, now that we've gotten rid of the posers, here's why serious skiers of all abilities adore the place. For starters, the location and elevation have a silver lining: snow. It's plentiful, and it usually comes early and stays late, often well into May. The mountain is blessed with a continuous 2,112-foot vertical drop. And though many trails have been widened, they still retain their old New England feel. Lynx curves, rollicks and rolls, toying with you as it drops. The legendary Wildcat Trail retains its bite, especially when ungroomed. There's a separate learn-to-ski area, and when novices have mastered the basics, there's Polecat, which gently winds 3.75 miles from summit to base. As for the view across the valley to the legendary bowls of Mt. Washington, readers agree: The "breathtaking scenery, with no ugly condos in sight" is one of Wildcat's biggest assets. No, it's not a good choice if you want to roll into bed after a night on the town and out of it onto the slopes the next day. The closest lodging is the no-frills Joe Dodge Lodge, but Gorham, Jackson, Bartlett and North Conway are within wining, dining and sleeping distance. -H.N.
WHAT'S NEW Terrain park has been enlarged by 50 percent and a halfpipe has been added.
A GOOD DEAL Wildcat has plenty: a two-day weekend/holiday pass ($72; add a weekday for $20); the Sunday Afternoon Cruise ($15, noon to close); two-fer Wednesdays ($52 for two); and Wildcat's birthday present: Bring a friend on your birthday (and a valid ID), and one of you skis for free.
MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge, Value; SILVER Snow, Family Programs.
HIGH/LOW RANK Scenery (11),Terrain (16), Value (17); Lodging (57),Weather (59), On-Mountain Food (59).
DON'T MISS Backcountry enthusiasts can drop over Wildcat's backside on theWildcat Valley Trail, which descends 11 miles and 3,245 vertical feet to Jackson (it's not patrolled, so bring two friends, and check conditions first: 603-383-9355).
READER REMARKS (+) "Scenery is unmatched" "Best resort in East, if all you want to do is ski." (-) "Trail maintenance leaves a lot to be desired." "Icy and cold mountain." "Nothing to do off mountain."