Wildcat celebrates 50 and 75 years of giving skiers a lift
From "skinning" up the mountain to High Speed Quad Chair
Story and photos by Bob Dunn
Many ski areas have been celebrating anniversaries over the past few years, including Sun Valley in Idaho, Cranmore in North Conway, and Gunstock (Belknap) in Gilford (all celebrating 70 years), to name a few.
The view from halfway down Wildcat of Mount Washington, Tuckerman's and Hillman's (the steep gully on the left). Notice the Sherburne Trail winding down to the Notch.
Wildcat Mountain, in Jackson, N.H., is celebrating its 50th anniversary of lift-served skiing this winter but also 75 years of skiing the Wildcat Trail. The area was developed in the winter of 1957-58, starting with a T-Bar lift on the Beginner Ski School area and a two-passenger Gondola that carried skiers to the top of the 4,062-foot peak, covering over 2,112 feet of vertical. The Wildcat Trail, a Class "A" race trail, was originally cleared in 1933 by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp), based on a layout worked out by Charlie Proctor, along with the Sherburne Trail and Gulf of the Slides on the other side of Pinkham Notch up to Tuckerman's Ravine and the Gulf of Slides on the side of Mount Washington. All these trails were cut by the CCC at the same time. Proctor was instrumental in designing many other New England ski trails before heading west and orchestrating the development of Sun Valley in Idaho.
Two skiers half way down the mountain.
Brooks Dodge, a former Olympic skier, was instrumental in forming a group to finance the development of Wildcat as a ski area in 1957. The son of Joe Dodge, Brooks had grown up across the street from Wildcat at the AMC (Apalachian Mountain Club) Pinkham Notch Camp, run by his father.
View north of Pinkham Notch toward base of auto road to the top of Mt. Washington.
In researching this article, I found that my former boss and friend Bob Livermore won the very first race held down the Wildcat Trail in 1935. Livermore was also one of the first skiers to descend Mount Washington down the upper snowfields and into Tuckerman's Ravine. The Wildcat Trail, along with The Nosedive at Stowe and the Taft Race Trail at Cannon, were at the time the best Class "A" race trails.
View down the Upper Wildcat Trail.
I remember how enjoyable it was in the late 40's and early 50's to head up to Pinkham Notch for spring skiing. Before the days of snowmaking, the lift serviced ski areas such as Cranmore, Cannon and Black Mountain which would close relatively early due to lack of snow cover, whereas Wildcat, the Sherburne and Tuckerman's were the place to head. The usual first tracks would be to "skin" up to the top of Wildcat and leave our back-pack with lunch near the Wildcat Cabin on the East side of the top. We would take off the "skins" and make a couple of runs down to the bottom of "Sun Valley", a relatively wide part of the trail that would be in the sun (hence the name). Then we would put on the "skins" again and climb back to the top to sit on the east-facing side near or on top of the cabin to have lunch and relax before heading down the whole run of the Wildcat Trail.
Cruising off the lower chair on the Catapult Trail.
When we tired of skiing the Wildcat Trail, we would head across the highway and "skin" up the Sherburne Trail to first ski Hillman's Highway. This was a great area that headed up to "Boot Spur" which connected over to the Gulf of Slides. We skied Hillman's first before the Ravine, because from the top of the Sherburne it was then up Hillman's. The final run of the day was from the top of Hillman’s all the way down the Sherburne to Pinkham Notch. When the snow had left the Sherburne Trail the climb then would be up the "Fire Trail" and many weekends of skiing Tuckerman's. The "cool" thing would be to ski a final Saturday (latest I remember was on July 4th) and depart early to hit Hampton Beach with the skis on top of the car.
View from the top to the east at the beginning of the cross-country trek along Wildcat Ridge down to Carter Notch and Jackson.
The scene is quite different now, 50 years later. Today Wildcat has an express quad detachable chair to the top that takes skiers and boarders to the top in six minutes. It is a great ski area to have some good sliding with the Polecat Trail, an intermediate ability trail from the top, the longest trail in New Hampshire, or down the widened Wildcat Trial, with the old "S-turns" eliminated — or any of many other trails to choose from. If the weather becomes windy, the area off the lower chair provides a nice sheltered area for enjoyable skiing. In addition to its wide variety of alpine trails, Wildcat boasts a great expert cross-country trail from the top of the mountain off the east side down through Carter Notch and ending in Jackson Village—a full 17.8 kilometers away. The mountain also does a great summer and fall business, with beautiful views of the Presidential Range, Pinkham Notch and Carter Notch. They substitute the chairs on the "Wildcat Quad Express" with four-passenger gondola cars during these seasons, providing a leisurely view of the spectacular scenery.
The quick way up Wildcat vs the old way of "skinning" up.
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