Lovers of Burke Mountain, now Q Burke, can’t be blamed for being a little nervous about the transformation beginning to take place at their home hill.
Long an outpost for hardy skiers in the remote and beautiful Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, Burke served up big-mountain vert, underrated tree skiing, healthy snowpack, and beautiful views of Willoughby Gap. Best of all: no crowds. Skier visits averaged something like 70,000 per year, according to JJ Toland, spokesman for Burke’s sister resort, Jay Peak. Northern Vermont skiers knew they could hit Burke on a powder day and use its Poma—as fast as any high-speed lift—to score fresh tracks all day.
But the transformation has already begun. Previous owners replaced the plodding summit quad with a high-speed lift in 2011. And now the owners of Jay, including Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros, have embarked on a redevelopment of Burke similar in strategy to the one that has taken Jay from about 150,000 skier visits to about 400,000 in eight years.
So far, $105 million has been committed to the Burke project. Work has begun on the Burke Mountain Hotel and Conference Center, located at the Mid-Burke base area, adjacent to the new summit lift. Toland compares the aesthetic of the new hotel to the Tram Haus at Jay, where Vermont artisans, themes and materials were used to give the hotel a strong sense of place. “It’ll be like two Tram Hauses joined together,” says Toland, “with a conference center in the middle, along with a pub and restaurant.” The hotel is scheduled to open by Christmas of 2015 with 116 suites. Down the road, Q Burke plans to add indoor aquatic and tennis facilities, a mountain bike center, and other non-skiing amenities. A second hotel is planned for the lower base area.
As at Jay, foreign investors will be footing the bill for the lavish capital improvements through the federal EB-5 visa program. Foreign nationals willing to invest at least $500,000 in designated low-income zones like Vermont’s Orleans and Essex counties are rewarded with green cards (and eventual citizenship, if conditions are met) for themselves and their dependents. Stenger, an acknowledged expert on the EB-5 program, says he and his team have raised some $275 million for Jay through the program.
“Burke is basically going to be page two of our efforts,” says Stenger. “They need a combination of beds and four-season amenities as well. Much of what we’re doing at Burke is patterned after what we’ve done at Jay.”
What’s with the name change? Burke locals have been through a lot of uncertainty ownership changes in recent years. By adding their “Q” to the resort’s name, Quiros and his son, Q Burke president Ary Quiros, hope to reassure the community that they’re here to stay.
The transformation promises to be drastic, but there’ll be one corner of nostalgia for longtime Burke lovers. While the Mid-Burke lodge will be razed, one section will be spared. The Bear’s Den pub, scene of so much après ski revelry and camaraderie over the years, will be preserved and relocated in its entirety.
“It’s not hard,” says can-do Stenger. “You just build a new foundation and you move it.”
(Photo by Patrick Bradley)