AlpineZone Challenge 2004 – Irene Donnell of Wildcat

The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Irene Donnell, Director of Marketing and Communications of Wildcat Mountain in Jackson, New Hampshire, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 9/30/2004:

riverc0il: Wildcat has notoriously awful snow reporting. In a world of bad snow condition reports, Wildcat seems to be above and beyond other resorts and is in my opinion the worst offender in New England for poor snow condition reports. Can this situation be addressed?

Irene Donnell: I’ve been getting generally good feedback on the snow reporting, so I’m a little disheartened by this question/comment; but it’s an evolving process and feedback is always good! At this stage, Wildcat’s Snow Report team includes 4 avid skiers, including members of the Marketing, Ski Patrol, and Mountain departments. We take the responsibility seriously, and have a routine that begins here at the Mountain very early in the morning (actually each afternoon, for the next day)! Of course, the LAST thing we want is for folks to come up to the Cat and have a bad experience. In fact, our goal is quite the opposite!

I think, to address the situation, what we need to emphasize here is that the Snow Report is really a FORECAST of what operations and conditions are expected to be on a given day based on expected weather conditions, snowmaking, grooming, and lift operations. It is a snapshot, taken at a point in time, which is stated on the report — usually at least a couple of hours before the mountain actually opens for the day. There never are any issues when the forecast and the actual conditions and planned operations match up and there is consistency across the mountain.

But this is Wildcat, not Disney World. While both deliver exhilaration and memories that last a lifetime, Wildcat Mountain is a real, living alpine environment, over which we have only very limited control. Conditions are not static. When the actual conditions and operations under the prevailing conditions at opening time do not match the forecast and daily operation plan, then we face the situation as it presents itself. The reality of being situated at a base level of 2,000 feet, is that weather forecasts are only generally reliable, conditions can be very different from what folks are experiencing in the surrounding valleys, AND weather conditions can change very quickly, especially as you head up to Wildcat’s 4,062 ft summit. We do our best to get the word out about significant changes and up-date the report; but we are often dealing with on-going, continuous changes . . . and while you can look to a forecast for guidance, you never really KNOW for sure what it’s going to do up here in Pinkham Notch, NH. It’s part of the charm, excitement . . . and allure of Wildcat. But it also presents a bit of a Catch 22 at times. We ask folks to “call ahead” before coming up, 1-888-SKI WILD, or visit Wildcat’s on-line Snow Report page during the season.

When we’re experiencing changeable conditions or strong winds, we urge folks to call ahead and speak to someone for the most up-to-date report. We want people to understand that conditions can change quickly up here, for better or for worse. And, when it is for the better, it can be absolutely MAGIC! We also have a feedback form on our web site. All feedback is good feedback, and we do take it all into consideration!

riverc0il: Scanning of tickets is annoying, especially watching empty chairs go up because the line is being held up by someone scanning tickets. This is common practice at big resorts and really disappointed me when I saw this practice begin at Wildcat. Why is this practice needed and must it continue? Isn’t a visual inspection of lift tickets just as good, or does wildcat actually make legit use with the statistics generated?

Irene Donnell: There are various reasons that Wildcat scans lift tickets. Wildcat sells direct-to-lift tickets over the internet, as well as in certain ski shops and lodgings, at a discounted price. These tickets provide savings, the convenience of home delivery (and no ticket line), and are fully transferable until validated at the lift, where they are scanned. The scanning both validates the ticket so that it is used according to its terms, and provides information required under Wildcat’s use permit with the Forest Service relative to skier visit numbers. Scanning is really the only way to track Pass Holder visit and off-site ticket visit numbers, so scanning isn’t going to go away.

Trust me on this, we don’t like to watch empty chairs either! But empty chairs at Wildcat are not due to lift ticket scanning; rather it is because there is rarely a lift line at Wildcat, especially midweek. Skiers do need to slow down en route to the lift for what should be less than ten seconds to be scanned (during which time you might see a chair go by), and that is just a necessary evil (also safer!). On days when there may be a lift line, then the lift attendants typically work to scan tickets in advance, making sure that there are no empty chairs.

If you want to look at the bright side, get your ticket scanned, or (better) your season pass, each and every trip up — then you can visit Guest Services at the end of the day, or season, and find out have many runs you have taken, and how much vertical you’ve skied. With a 2,112 ft. vertical accessed in about 6-7 minutes via the Wildcat Express Quad, you can rack it up!
Have single day weekend lift tickets been set for the 2004-2005 season? Wildcat used to be my favorite mountain, but when the lift ticket price went to $52, I scaled back my ski days at

riverc0il: Wildcat dramatically (I typically only go once per year now). I can’t afford lodging and ski by myself so the two day cheaper weekend price is not an option. Any plans to drop the ticket price below that $50 threshold typically reserved for the big overpriced corporate type resorts?

Irene Donnell: 
The ticket price is not dropping; it’s actually going up a few dollars. But please don’t let that be a stumper. Now that folks can add consecutive days to their first lift ticket for just $25 per day, that gives more than a 50% discount right off the bat, and savings grow with each day of skiing. With the multi-day concept we hoped to assist funding of lodging, so that folks would stick around and ski more. Situated smack-dab between Jackson and Gorham, NH (about 10 minutes either way, or 20-30 minutes from North Conway) we are surrounded by a huge variety of economical lodging & dining options. And many lodgings do sell our lift tickets at a reduced rate.

Another thing that I might recommend to someone in your circumstances is to get a few friends or family members together and go in on a Live Ticket 10-Pack — basically you get up to $10 off per ticket (until 9/30, but there may be a few days grace on that — no later than Monday, Oct. 4th), so Adult tickets are $42/ticket; Teens, $32/ticket; Jr. & Srs. $20/ticket. You just need to buy a total of 10 tickets in one purchase (for example. you can combine 4 adult, 4 teen, and 2 junior tickets to total 10). You can check that out at this link.

These tickets will be mailed to you, you divide them up as you will, and use them whenever you wish during the season. As a bonus, you can each up-grade your tickets to add consecutive days for just $25/day, and ski and ride additional days. This is a very flexible program for folks who want to ski around and get a great deal at the Cat.

We also have special deals, like the $20 Sunday Afternoon Cruise from noon-close every Sunday, Two-Fer Wednesdays, free lift ticket on your birthday, and the April 1st – when we celebrate the Wildcat Express Quad’s birthday (it will be 8 years old, so tickets will be $8 on April 1, 2005. We have other specials throughout the season as well. Stay up to date

Now I can’t talk about all this ticket stuff without bringing your attention to the fact that Wildcat has cut it’s Season Pass Prices by more than 50% in some instances. More on this at this below and at this link!

I hope you can appreciate that the current pricing structure is geared toward frequent skiing & riding for all ages, with no black out dates!
I was disappointed to see the old gondi towers come down. They were an excellent part of

riverc0il: Wildcat and New England ski history and added something to the gondi lift line trail. Now that the towers are gone, will that lead to grooming of this fine top to bottom bump run, or can we look forward to bumps in the future without the obstacles some of us enjoyed?

Irene Donnell: There is no question that Wildcat maintains a place in the history of skiing in New England, and in the U.S. There is much that has been preserved in photos and files, and you will find some of that on display now at the New England Ski Museum in Franconia Notch, and hopefully here at Wildcat at some point soon.

The gondi line, Wildcat’s continuous pure 2,112 ft. vertical is AWESOME! Although those colorful old towers, are nostalgic to many of us who grew our ski legs on Wildcat, the Forest Service was not so enamored of them. For safety reasons, the old Wildcat Gondola, which was installed back in 1957 and began operation as the first lift of its kind in the U.S. on Jan. 25, 1958, was dismantled in 2000. The gondola cabins, except a few, were donated to non-profit organizations who auctioned them off to raise money for their respective causes. But the terrain remains, and, with the towers gone, snowmaking and grooming operations are improved. It will be easier to maintain snow cover, actually requiring less snow volume, on the upper part of the trail.

As always, there will be those who will argue for the bumps and those who will argue for groomed cruisers. As for the gondi line, the plan is to maintain it as advanced terrain, and not groomed out as a cruiser.

salida: What is the state of expansion at wildcat? From my recollection of Wildcat from the summit of Mount Washington, it looks as if there are some nice cliffs and some fairly steep terrain that could be expanded to the south. It would be reminiscent of Cannon’s tramline. Have you ever thought about expanding to the south along wildcat ridge trail to the edge before it dips back around to the south? It seems as if there is another area almost the size of wildcat before the topography would limit the ski area. This terrain could be great glade and extreme cliff skiing. Also, it looks as if there is a bowl type area to the north along wildcat ridge trail. This terrain looks as if it could be nice north facing slope that would keep snow long into the spring. It looks as if it could have a lift at the bottom of the bowl that runs to the top of wildcat. Very interesting terrain indeed.

Irene Donnell: Ahhh, yes, the possibilities . . . look amazing from Mt. Washington — as do the possibilities on Mt. Washington look amazing from Wildcat! Wildcat Mountain is located 100% on White Mountain National Forest land, and operates the ski area by virtue of a lease and special use permit arrangement with the U.S. Forest Service. The area you refer to is outside Wildcat’s permit area and is also a designated “scenic” area by the USFS. A proposed expansion of Wildcat’s permit area, and amended use designation to make it compatible with a ski area operation, would require research and feasibility studies under the direction of the Forest Service, along with a ten-year processing period. The costs associated likely would range into the millions of dollars. Under certain circumstances that sort of investment might make sense. But, at this point in time, the existing infrastructure at Wildcat is under-utilized, and the numbers do not justify a proposed expansion. But keep dreaming — that’s exactly how Wildcat came to be here in the first place!

And it certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come up and explore all around Pinkham Notch! Because there is interesting terrain ALL over the place!!! (In fact, I bet you could find some locals who could tell you all about the area you’d like to develop). There’s also some great terrain down the backside of the Cat — you can head down Wildcat Valley Trail — a 17km odyssey (3200+ ft. vertical) you into Jackson Village, on Jackson Ski Touring Foundation terrain and is an awesome (back-country, or tele) odyssey!

eatskisleep: Since Wildcat is on White Mountain National Forest land, how does this affect the way that you conduct business? Does it limit the cutting of new terrain?

Irene Donnell: 
Yes it does, as note in answers to the questions regarding scanning and expansion.

eatskisleep: Except in the spring, there is typically a lot of ice at Wildcat. Some people like this, and some people hate it. What can be done to try to get rid of some of this ice?

Irene Donnell: My father skated down the Lynx on his hockey skates back in 1965 . . . oops, I’m not supposed say that. Ahem! Honestly, I think Wildcat gets a bad wrap when it comes to that perception. It’s not fair to say “there is typically a lot of ice at Wildcat.” It depends so much on the weather, the day, and the trail. Wildcat’s Mountain crew does an amazing job with their resources — snowmaking, grooming, and resurfacing. During the season, about 75-85% of the open terrain is groomed nightly, creating great conditions as the early birds well know. But I must add that if folks are skiing in the East, or anywhere, really, it’s a good idea to learn to handle ice. Feeling comfortable on all terrain and in varying, changing conditions, knowing you can get down anything, builds confidence and opens the door to more trails and more adventure out there.

Greg: With ASC currently offering the ASC Gold Pass (no blackout dates; good at six resorts) for $599, will Wildcat be adjusting the pre-9/30 season pass price?

Irene Donnell: If you’re an ASC fan, then that was one heck of a deal. Wildcat offers a different experience, though, so we are not really competing along the same lines as ASC resorts. And it’s not just mega-resort vs. boutique, either, because Wildcat is anything but pretentious. Wildcat is an independent, family-operated ski area, located in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, with no slope-side condominiums scattered about. It is a truly wild and beautiful place. Wildcat offers a 2100 ft. pure vertical drop, accessible in just about 6 minutes — incredible scenery, plentiful natural snow. In fact Wildcat is rated top 10 in the East for: Scenery, Snow Quality, Terrain, Challenge, and Value (SKI Magazine, Oct. 2004). Wildcat reduced it’s Season Pass Prices this spring by more than 50% in some instances. A full adult pass started at $499, and is now $599 until 9/30/04 (extended until Monday, October 4th). There are no black-out dates. The Sunday-Friday Pass (6-Day; no Saturdays; no black-out dates) is currently $425. School age students k-12 get the Student Weather Observer, a combined Wildcat Pass/Mt. Washington Weather Observatory membership for only $149. And full-time college students can ski & ride all season for $169. The hope is not only to support the business but to get the folks up here and out in the snow as much as possible — skiing, riding, socializing, telling stories, cavorting. It’s not just about money, there’s so much more. Together, Wildcat’s loyal skiers and riders, and employees, maintain a sense of “community” in an intimate, friendly, local, laid-back (heck, throwback) atmosphere. You’re a person at Wildcat, not a number. That’s Wildcat. So if you’re interested in this experience, the prices are available RIGHT NOW (the sale has been extended to Monday, Oct. 4th, and no later!)!

Greg: Do you have any plans to open a forum or chat room on your website? Do you read web forums like If so, do you ever want to reply to posts about Wildcat or other ski areas?

Irene Donnell: I don’t typically read forums, although I definitely find it interesting; it’s a time factor. Big mountain, small administration. That’s the reality. What’s cool about forums is to see how psyched folks are about skiing & riding, the passion. That’s what it’s all about. We do have a feedback form on our website, and we welcome input, feedback, and stories from skiers and riders.

Greg: Are there any infrastructure improvements/upgrades planned, e.g. lifts, snowmaking, base/summit facilities, etc.?

Irene Donnell: We don’t have anything monumental up our sleeves for the coming season on a material level, except the usual maintenance and some painting and sprucing up around the Lodge. This past season we had a fairly regular schedule of live entertainment après ski, and we hosted Wildcat’s first Annual 100K Day, where folks took the challenge to ski and ride 100,000 vertical in one day – it was a benefit for the Make-a-Wish Foundation; and it was an awesome event. Folks can expect more along these lines. You can find out about the event here. As temperatures cool, check in at, or sign up for Wildcat’s newsletter for up-to-date information. Our growing Events list is here!

To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: width=