Weekend at Burke Mountain


There may be no view more beautiful than the one you get atop Burke Mountain. Through the clear air of Vermont's remote Northeast Kingdom, skiers get off the Willoughby Quad and gaze out across a vast, open landscape of rolling hills and meadows, northward to the region's geographic signature, the thousand-foot rock walls of Willoughby Gap. At your feet is a mountain that will pleasantly surprise you. You won't find high-speed quads and tubing parks, but you will find 45 fun and exciting ways down 2,000 vertical feet of pure mountain. During our stay, we rip 50-mph GS turns down a race trail that would challenge any Olympian. We find lines of untracked powder in the glades. We ride the J-Bar to hang out with kids (lots of huge smiles and tiny yucks). Then we finish up on wide-open groomers, cycling till the lifts close. Burke may lack some of the bells and whistles, but it has all the skiing you need.

Doug's On-Mountain Tour
There are two parts to the ski area. The lower mountain is a self-contained family area, with the base lodge, the Sherburne double, the J-bar and five easy runs pitched just right for beginners and intermediates. It's fun, safe and just seconds away from the lodge and a cup of hot cocoa. But the upper mountain, served by the Willoughby Quad (wicked slow) and the Mountain Poma (wicked fast), is where the real skiing is. Park at the Mid-Burke Lodge near the base of the two lifts. If you arrive early, you might catch a glimpse of the Old-Timers, a gang of regulars who meet daily, snow or shine, for a couple of runs. They're the ones waiting in line for the lift to open. If you join them, be prepared to keep up; they won't even wait for one of their own if he's a minute or two late. You'll see them again at around 11 a.m., heading in after enjoying their daily 7,500 vertical feet of skiing.

The upper mountain is a maze of trails that crisscross their way down 1,500 feet of sustained north-facing vertical. Most of the runs are challenging cruisers that curve and dive and bend, with terrain variations to keep you entertained and alert. Even after five runs on the same trail, you can find a new line, a new way to ski each corner. The expert trails are scattered across the upper mountain. Wilderness, Ledges, Fox's Folly and Doug's Drop (cool name, but unfortunately no connection) are just a few, with plenty of bumps, steeps and drop-offs.

Burke Mountain Academy racers train daily, using the Poma to ski on Warren's Way and Big Dipper. Takea moment to watch them: You'll learn a thing or two. Burke was the first-andis still one of the best-race/prep schools in the country. It has nurtured some of the nation's most successful racers, including five competitors in the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics. The Academy also now owns the long-suffering resort, having bought it two years ago to ensure its future.

We swing by to say hello to Kelley's old coaches and find them running several training courses simultaneously on Warren's Way. We're instantly inspired by the young racers, and the competitive juices begin to flow. When we jump into the GS course, the students check us out. One observes that our technique is hopelessly '80s, but says we still carve some pretty sweet turns. On that note we say goodbye and head off.

There are three things that you have to do when you ski Burke. The first is to rip some fast turns down Big Dipper, which wasrecently widened. It's FIS-sanctioned for world-class racing and has four distinct headwalls that will quicken your pulse and put a smile on your face. Second, find your way into Burke's woods. There are 11 gladed trails (marked, but officially nameless on the trail map) that are worth every second. The trees are close enough to make it challenging, but wide enough to ski nonstop if your reflexes and legs can take it. Last, make the effort to get to East Bowl. It's a long trail (2.25 miles), narrow and an adventure every time down. Ski it in the morning when the sun ligh it up beautifully, and let your boards run.

Kelley and I have skied Burke many times, butalways for races or training. Skiing it for fun gives us a refreshing perspective. We expect to be quickly bored, but are surprised by how much the mountain offers. It's fun and challenging, without the hype and crowds of big resorts.

Kelley's Off-Mountain Tour
It's a nostalgic trip for meto the aisles of Bailey's & Burke Country Store, a place that holds fond memories. During my school days at Burke, it supplied many a coffeecake and more than a few pints of Ben & Jerry's. A decade later, not much has changed. It's a bit bigger, with a deli, more country crafts and a wine cellar. And I don't find any coffeecake. But I do discover "The Gobbler," a house-special hand-carved turkey sandwich. Doug orders The Kingdomer, another favorite, but spends a good amount of time eyeing my Gobbler.

Burke isn't a ritzy resort, but you won't lack for a couple of good places to stay. One, the Inn at Mountain View Farm, was a state-of-the-art dairy farm and creamery in the late 1800s. Now it's a beautifullyrestored country inn on440 acres of ridgeline fields and forest. Owners Marilyn and John Pastore are the proud keepers of the farm's interesting history.

At the Vermont Inn, you'll think you've stepped back in time at an English country manor. Its rooms are filled with antiques,floral patterns and hand-stitched quilts. And condominium "cottages" in the Farmhouse building are suites with full kitchens. This is where we stay, and we're delighted to finda fireplace stocked with enough wood to keep us cozy all weekend.

The village of East Burke is tiny, but there's more to do than downhill ski. For cross-country skiing, head off to the Burke Cross-Country Ski Center. Inside, you'll find carpet samples for padding on their wooden bench seats, but the host is friendly and full of suggestions on trail conditions and wildlife possibilities. A map on the wall tracks the season's animal sightings on the entire trail system. If you want a moose, try the North Pasture Loop. But even if you don't see any moose, deer, rabbits or owls, you can warm up afterward with 50-cent hot chocolates by the wood stove.

Another option is the Kingdom Trails system, with 50 miles of interconnected trails for snowshoeing or nordic skiing. Rent your snowshoes from East Burke Sports in town, which also serves as one of three trail heads. If you're with kids, try the East Burke Village Trails. They feel like deep woods, yet are close to town if you need a break. For a more intense workout and a great view of the mountain, head up to Sugarhouse Run.

For dinner, you'll have been sure to make reservations at River Garden Caféin the heart of the village.Arrive a little early for a drink at the bar-we're told they make a mean martini. The place is popular with both locals and tourists, and for good reason. One of the owners is a veteran of the New York City restaurant scene. The food is fresh and delicious, and every bit of it is made from scratch-even the ice cream. Kids are welcome. We especially love the warm artichoke dip to start, a specialty. And if you have a sweet tooth (like us), try the Banana Chocolate Chip Spring Roll with homemade vanilla ice cream.

Every time we ask about nightlife, the locals laugh. There are a couple of barsin the area, but not muchaction. The most common nightlife in East Burke involves a good book by the fire and a farm video for the kids. But several people suggest moonlit snowshoeing, and because the Kingdom Trails run right past our door, we give it a go, bundling up, strapping on shoes and heading out through woods and meadows. The half moon is bright and the stars seem to stretch out forever in Burke's big sky. It's the perfect way to end our day.

Back in our cozy Farmhouse room, relaxing in the glow of the fire, we bothnotice how much more peaceful we feel. I recall how innkeeper Marilyn Pastore put it: "You're more in tune with the land and the weather up here," she said. "It's a place where you can reorient your compass, where you feel safe, where your problems seem solvable." We agree wholeheartedly. tune with the land and the weather up here," she said. "It's a place where you can reorient your compass, where you feel safe, where your problems seem solvable." We agree wholeheartedly.