BURKE: A BIG LITTLE MOUNTAIN

Back in early February, my wife, Krista, and I were surfing the Internet trying to settle on a location for our next ski excursion. We knew we wanted to spend a day up at Jay Peak (one of our favorites), but we also wanted to explore different mountains. Eventually I stumbled across a link to nearby Burke Mountain. I had never heard of Burke before and nearly discounted it as some small local hill, probably serviced by a tow-rope, but curiosity won out and I clicked through. In place of a little hill, I found a surprisingly large mountain. After few minutes with the trail map, I was convinced that this place had potential.

Burke Mountain is located in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, just a few miles off of I-91. The region is sparsely populated to say the least, but proximity to the highway makes the trip an easy one. We arrived at the Village Inn of East Burke at around 5pm to a warm welcome. After checking in, we headed up to our room and were pleasantly surprised to find a large, bright living space with wood floors and a variety of animal pelts hanging on the walls and railings. Not bad for $110 including lift tickets.

We found an enjoyable and reasonably priced dinner just down the road from the Inn at The Pub Outback. There isn’t much night life in East Burke (population 1,756), especially on a Wednesday night, so we turned in to get an early start on Thursday. On the weekend, things pick up a little with live entertainment at the Pub.

Thursday morning brought clear skies, cold temperatures, and a hearty homemade breakfast in the Inn’s guest kitchen. We chatted with some of the Inn’s other guests, who were there to watch their teenage children compete in a series of races at Burke. The final round of races before the Junior Olympic Team selection were held that week, so there was a distinct air of excitement among the parents and competitors. After breakfast, we headed out to the mountain.

Burke Mountain is divided neatly into two sections. The lower mountain contains exclusively novice trails, while the upper mountain contains only intermediate and advanced terrain. We decided to skip the main base lodge and head directly to the smaller mid-mountain lodge, located at the foot of the upper mountain. My wife is a solid intermediate skier and I am a rather adventurous advanced skier, so we knew we would be spending most of our time on the upper mountain.

Once out on the mountain, we found a wide variety of trails and glades. Burke sports several wide, fast cruisers such as Willoughby and the Dippers, and a few good bump runs like Doug’s Drop and Fox’s Folly. There are also several traditional New England style trails that twist and wind their way down the mountain such as Carriage Road and Deer Run. For the more advanced skier, Burke provides no fewer than nine gladed trails in a variety of shapes and sizes. Dixiland is long and moderately wooded while the aptly named Jungle is shorter, but quite dense in many places.

The entire upper mountain is serviced by a single (fixed grip) quad chair, which I’m told rarely has a line, even on weekends. The chair runs up a steep section of the mountain, so the ride is not particularly long, even though it covers most of Burke’s 2000 vertical feet. The view from the top was excellent, with Mount Mansfield clearly visible in the distance, while the ride down is blissfully devoid of other skiers and riders. My only complaint about the chair was that the safety bar had no foot rest. By the end of the day my knees and lower thighs were a bit sore from the hanging weight of my skis and boots. The lower mountain is serviced by a double chair, which does have a foot rest. There are also two surface lifts at Burke.

Burke’s group lesson rates are a very affordable $25, so my wife decided to take a morning lesson. She found her instructor, Johnny B., to be both knowledgeable and a good communicator. About half way through her lesson, I happened to meet Krista and her instructor at the chair. Krista was the only person in her group that day, so Johnny B. invited me to join in for a few runs. He showed us how to check each others form, along with several very helpful (and challenging) balance drills. The lesson turned out to be extremely beneficial for us both.

Overall, the snow conditions at Burke were good. The groomers did an excellent job of smoothing out the snow on the cruisers, and Burke’s average seasonal snowfall of 250 inches meant that the bumps and glades had generally adequate coverage, even though the last significant snowfall had been well over a week prior. Burke does not make much artificial snow, but it does not appear to matter. At the end of the day, my wife and I left the mountain with smiles on our faces and no doubt that we would make the two hour drive up 91 from Brattleboro again.

Burke Mountain, in the heart of Vermont’s spectacular Northeast Kingdom, is conventienly located near the intersecions of I-91 and I-93, just seven miles from I-91, Exit 23. They have 43 trails and glades on 240 skiable acres with 25% novice, 45% intermediate and 30% advanced. They have a five acre, 1,200 foot snowboard park called “The Gap”, complete with a variety of jumps and hits. The Half Pipe is maintained by a state-of-the art Bombardier HPG half pipe groomer. There are 4 lifts with a 3,500/hour: uphill capacity. They include 1 quad chairlift, 1 POMA high-speed detachable surface lift, 1 double chairlift, and 1 J-bar surface lift. Burke has snowmaking coverage on 75% of their 240 acres.

The Burke Cross Country Center has 80 kilometers of trails, 65 kilometers groomed (55 tracked) for both classic and skating and 15 kilometers of back country, X-country skiing.