“This is it?” That was my first thought upon arriving at Burke as a teenager for a ski race some 25 years ago. That phrase became a refrain as I hiked the slalom course next to the small, broken-down, Poma and sought refuge from the New England cold in the bare-bones Mid-Burke Lodge. Knowing Burke Academy’s reputation for churning out Olympians, I was shocked that so humble an operation had such stature. Of course, like many youngsters, I wasn’t looking very far beyond my own ski tips.
Flash forward to last season, when my kids’ ski club descended on Burke for, ironically, our annual “Big-Mountain Day.” I said the same thing, but with different inflection: “This is it.”
Burke is the antidote to the modern, frazzled ski experience—a mountain that feels small but skis big. Expansive views of the Northeast Kingdom greet skiers atop its fixed-grip quad. Pick your course down any of the trails that spool off the summit to explore 2,000 vertical feet of diverse terrain. That might be quick-fix cruising on Big Dipper and Willoughby, bumps on Doug’s Drop or Fox’s Folly, or a classic New England plunge into the woods of Dixieland and The Jungle. Toss in enough glades and parks to keep rugrats challenged and engaged, and you have paradise for kids and adults alike.
The race hill is still front and center, and on any given day you see “Burkies”—the academy kids—pounding out training laps, cycling on the Poma. The academy and the ski area are so codependent that at one point the academy bought the resort out of bankruptcy to ensure its survival. In December 2005, Florida-based Ginn Company bought the resort from the school, and Burke entered a new era. The long-term plan includes 200 houses and 1,000 condominiums, complete with golf, swimming pool, spa, retail shops and at least one new restaurant.
All this sounds a bit scary to locals and skiers alike who appreciate the tranquility that is Burke. Tim McGuire, vice president of development for Ginn, assures them that despite the inevitable trade-offs for economic viability, the goal is to preserve the very assets vacationers seek. “We don’t want to turn it into Killington or Stratton or Okemo. We want to preserve a skiing experience that feels like you have the trail to yourself.”
Perhaps more surprising than the proposed development is that Burke has stayed off the radar for so long. The Northeast Kingdom might feel remote, but in reality, Burke is as close as Killington—and closer than Sugarbush or Stowe—to Boston and points south. With deeper snow, cheaper tickets and fewer people, it was destined to be outed.
While still in the permitting process, phase one of Burke’s plan, which could be approved by early 2009, includes two new lifts, 40 acres of new trails and 250 single-family homes, condos and cabins on the east side of the mountain, out of sight from the main slopes.
In the meantime skiers are already benefiting from Ginn’s investment. Vastly improved grooming and snowmaking over 80 percent of the mountain optimizes Burke’s 250 average annual inches. A high-speed quad on the lower mountain whisks novices and kids to a terrain park, the Enchanted Forest glades and plenty of gentle, perfectly manicured terrain. The base lodge underwent major renovations, and “cuisine” made it onto the menu at the Tamarack Grill.
Although a day at Burke might now feel suspiciously like a day at a big resort, the old Burke is alive and well, though subtly refined. The Poma is still there, but it’s twice as long, and it works. The mid-mountain lodge has the same embattled picnic tables and the same spectacular view of iconic Willoughby Gap, but with its free wifi, you can let all your friends know that you have, indeed, arrived.
SIGNPOST: Burke Mountain, Vermont
250 skiable acres; 2,011 vertical feet; 248 average annual inches; 45 trails/glades; four lifts, including one high-speed quad. Lift tickets (2007–08 prices): adult weekend/holiday $56; student (6–24) and senior (65-plus) $43
Lodging: Burke Mountain doesn’t currently manage any lodging properties, but slopeside options exist. The nicest ones are in the Bear Path and Powderhorn condo developments, managed by Burkemill Properties (802-626-5220; skiburke.com). For charm, views and luxury, it’s about three miles to the Inn at Mountain View Farm ($175–$285; 800-572-4509; innmtnview.com).
Info: 888-287-5388; skiburke.com
- SKI Magazine, December 2008