Burke Mountain has a duct-tape soul

  • Skiers and snowboarders play in fresh snow last week under the Mid-Burke Express chair lift at Burke Mountain. The East Burke, Vt., ski area is known for classic trails and glades. (Courtesy Burke Mountain) Courtesy Burke Mountain

Special to the Valley News
Published: 2/9/2019 10:05:32 PM
Modified: 2/9/2019 10:05:33 PM

Diggers in the woods never felt so good.

A foot of champagne snow fell overnight into morning during January’s last snowstorm, and the Burke Mountain powder junkies waited by the Mid-Burke Express quad for first tracks. Our run began with happy feet floating through dust on crust on winding intermediate Deer Run before cruising down Powderhorn to the entrance of the black diamond Throbulator glades.

Throb we did. Into the chute, it wasn’t long before I had a close-up taste of the powder as it covered me on the steep pitch. My heart throbbed. My smile grew. Woohoos from below sounded through the forest. I continued the line and did another digger before finding refuge on the lower flats of the East Bowl trail.

The diggers came again on other glades, like Caveman. Later, the kid-friendly Enchanted Forest off the Sherburne Express on the beginner side of the resort proved a digger-free hoot on a wonderfully exhausting day.

Tucked away in a remote patch of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in East Burke, Burke Mountain is a skiers’ and riders’ mountain with a duct-tape soul. Noted for its steeps, classic narrow and sinuous trails, and acres of glorious glades on both sides of the mountain, the ski area also is privileged to have a long, pleasing look at fjord-like Willoughby Gap, with Mount Hor to the west and Mount Pisgah to the east.

The mid-sized, north-facing, 3,267-foot mountain with a big-sized bite has a thigh-burning vertical drop of 2,011 feet, with some 50 trails and handful of terrain parks.

The mountain is linked with Burke Mountain Academy, a champion-producing machine that’s unleashed more than 30 Olympians onto the world’s competitive stages over the past 40 years, including slalom genius Mikaela Shiffrin. From hearing the hard slaps of the slalom poles on firm snow to seeing hard-charging students fly through the giant slalom gates on Warren’s Way after riding up the T-bar, the mountain is stimulated with alpine passion by both the students and faithful loyalists embracing its old-school feel.

But new school lives at Burke, too. A few years ago, the academy unveiled the 15,000-square-foot Ronnie Berlack Center, an indoor training facility named after 2012 alum and U.S. Ski Team developmental competitor Ronnie Berlack, who died in an Austrian avalanche in January 2015.

More visible to skiers is the 116-suite, slopeside Burke Mountain Hotel and Conference Center, with The View Pub, Willoughby’s restaurant, a coffee shop, an arcade, a day lodge and a retail store that also opened in 2016. The hotel has echoes of the recent developments found at its sister NEK resort Jay Peak, like a green mindfulness, colorful landscape photographs in its rooms and welcoming woodlands-inspired lobby.

Found by the Mid-Burke Express, my wife and I made the short, sharp hike to the lift from the hotel during a recent mid-week getaway that happened to coincide with a super-G speed training camp for some 140 athletes largely from New England and eastern Canada, hoping to qualify for Nor-Ams. Although they commandeered the popular Upper Bigger and Lower Dipper runs, there was plenty of groomed intermediate and advanced terrain — no green stuff off the summit — like broad Willoughby, with its wide-ranging views; playful undulating Carriage Road; cruising Lower Bear Den; fun Foxy’s Folly and straight-laced The Shoot to ski.

The distinctive East Burke Trail is occasionally groomed and was on the pre-storm day.

The narrow black-diamond run with some resounding bends and bountiful views was reminiscent, at times, of the double-diamond Notch Trail at northern New Hampshire’s slumbering Wilderness Ski Area. But the trail has maddening sections at the beginning and end, turning skiers into Jessie Diggins cross-country skiing wannabes (the 15-kilometer, dog-friendly Dashney Nordic Center is nearby off Mountain Road) and torturing ill-prepared snowboarders.

Benign High Meadows Pass leads to the lower mountain and secluded beginner trails outside the Sherburne Base Lodge, a welcome interlude from the steeps.

No matter the trail taken, all seemed to lead in spirit to mid-mountain Bear Den, a weathered and iconic watering hole found inside the Mid-Burke Lodge. Warm by the fireplace. Sit in a rickety chair. Pet a house dog. Order a local brew at the bar by a sign that reads: If you’re lucky enough to live in the mountains, you’re lucky enough.

So are those in the Burke woods.

Marty Basch can be reached at marty.basch@gmail.com.

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