Winter Climbing & AT Skiing on
Wildcat A&D (4,422 & 4,062ft.) and Cannon Mountain
A Study in Contrasts
January 24, 2013
Wildcat from Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington
Mt. Washington from Wildcat
Cannon Mountain from Franconia Ridge
I enjoy alpine touring (AT) skiing – the semi-old school use of climbing skins and sophisticated bindings to allow cross country functionality on alpine skis. I’ve used them for the last 4 years both to access wild back country areas (occasionally) and/or to get some exercise (frequently) climbing up the front of the mountain – either late in the day or to get to an area closed to lift traffic by a “wind hold”.
Most of the AT skiing that I do is on Sugarloaf in Maine – a delightful Hill that celebrates AT skiers and the bridge to the past that they represent. I’m currently working on the winter 4,000 footers in New Hampshire, and I decided that doing the 3 ski areas in the state on AT gear – Wildcat, Cannon and Waterville Valley (Mount Tecumseh actually) – might be a fun way to get a little skiing and climbing mixed on the same trip. I always buy a lift ticket and do a few “lift assisted” runs together with the climb – it only seems fair.
Wildcat is one of the oldest and most challenging ski areas in the East. The original Wildcat Trail was laid out by the great skier Charley Proctor and cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps beginning in 1933. The development of ski lifts was started shortly thereafter by Brooks Dodge and George Macomber – famous names in eastern skiing in general and Dartmouth skiing in particular. The mountain stands alone without any residential real estate development. The facilities are old school New England skiing, and I absolutely love the place.
Looking down Wildcat Ridge to Mt Washington
Wildcat is actually a long (2.5 miles) ridge to the southeast of the Presidential Range. There are 5 peaks on the ridge, 2 of which count as 4,000 footers. The ski area is built on the “D” peak, and it is a 2.1 mile walk down the ridge to the highest summit in the chain – A Peak at 4,422 feet. This is a really nice walk in the winter, and the trail was hard snow and very fast.
Wildcat requires that uphill walking and skiing be done on the Polecat Trail, which is the longest and gentlest grade trail on the Hill. The trail was fast, the crowds light and I was on the top in 1.25 hours. At the top I got to talking with a young woman on the local Ski Patrol – a recently minted MS from Cornell with a degree in botany. She was totally engaging, apologizing for the limitations on AT skiing at Wildcat and the requirement to buy a lift ticket – restrictions that I don’t find particularly onerous.
On the way down the ridge I met a dozen or so fellow climbers and skiers. Wildcat is a hospitable environment for New Englanders who love the mountains that retains the charm of its roots. I am a fan of this place.
The next day my friend Pete and I headed over to Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch, hoping for a repeat performance. Cannon is a state owned and operated facility in Franconia Notch, which frankly has a fairly poor reputation among skiers and hikers in New Hampshire. Like Wildcat, the ski area was originally cut by the CCC, and dates back to the ‘30’s. Unlike Wildcat, it is wildly festooned with lifts and equipment, designed to suck a little money out of the motorists passing by on I93, located directly below.
I bought a ticket, strapped on my skis and headed up the Hill, only to be promptly turned back by a passing ski patrol. I explained that I had a ticket, and was in no way trying to rip them off – in fact I was paying for lifts that I really didn’t plan to use much. It didn’t matter – climbing in any form was found to violate the delicate sensibilities of the downhill only crowd.
Having a ticket, we took a couple of runs on the blue ice that they make at Cannon instead of snow. We found that most of the best runs had snow making equipment, but no snow. I was not impressed, and Pete was disgusted – he had just spent a couple of days enjoying the skiing at Okemo, and this was an ugly mess by comparison.
Pete enjoying the native deposits of ice at Cannon
On the slope at right – a nice trail waiting for someone to turn on the snow guns
We made a couple of runs, and headed back to Hanover for a little cross country skiing to clear our heads and put some distance between us and the ugly memory of Cannon.
If you get a chance, spend a day at Wildcat – it’s a great mountain with a real skier culture. Alternatively, if given a choice between a day at Cannon or working on my taxes, I’d pick the tax work every time.
Adios, from Wildcat (looking at Mt Washington)