The last time I skied at Burke Mountain was in 1996. I was a few years out of college and working at my first job as a newspaper reporter in nearby St. Johnsbury. Bill Clinton was president, Independence Day was the highest grossing movie of the year, and the most talked about mobile phone was the Motorola StarTAC. A lot has changed in two decades.
Burke has changed quite a bit, too—for the better. The ski area recently opened its mid-mountain, 116-room Burke Hotel & Conference Center, complete with two restaurants, a coffee shop, retail store, arcade, fitness center, and year-round outdoor heated pool and hot tub.
Located just steps from the Mid-Burke Express lift, the hotel offers guests a true ski-in/ski-out experience on one of the most scenic mountains in Vermont.
With one, two, and three-bedroom suites available, guests can enjoy comfort, amenities, and beauty at every turn. Hotel windows face ski trails or the dramatic view of Willoughby Gap to the north, giving guests a true sense of place. Rooms are a stone’s throw from the Magic Carpet learning area for little ones and the high-speed Mid-Burke Express, which gets skiers to the top of the mountain in no time.
While slopeside hotels are hardly a new concept, Burke has done an excellent job integrating its new lodging property with the mountain. The hotel gives you the feeling of being both at home and away, an ideal combination for a family ski getaway.
Then and Now
To appreciate Burke and its unmistakable sense of place, look no further than the mountain’s history.
The ski area, which first opened in the winter of 1955-56, has been through more than its fair share of tough times, cycling through several ownerships, challenging weather conditions, and even bankruptcies (one that I covered as a reporter in 1995). A recent EB-5 scandal put the resort in receivership, and it’s expected to be sold after this ski season to a new owner.
Still, time and time again, this is a mountain community that knows how to survive.
Part of what makes Burke Mountain special is the world-renowned Burke Mountain Academy. Established in 1970 as the first ski academy of its kind in the United States, Burke Mountain Academy has produced numerous national team members and Olympians over the years, including 2016 World Cup Winner and 2014 Olympic slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin.
Just a few weeks after Mikaela Shiffrin dominated the World Cup slalom at Killington, my family visited Burke for an early December weekend of skiing. As soon as we arrived and checked into the Burke Hotel, we could feel the positive energy buzzing around the resort’s staff, who were friendly, helpful, and just plain happy to be there. No question, so were we.
Our Stay at the Burke Hotel & Conference Center
As a family of three, we opted for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite at the hotel, which comes with a full kitchen, dining room table, living room, three televisions, a balcony overlooking the mountain, two comfortable king beds, and a gas fireplace.
The hotel accommodations are spacious, sunny, and cheerful, with tasteful Vermont touches such as locally made wooden end tables and wool bed scarves.
While the suite’s kitchen includes a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave, we decided to eat out for our meals.
The View Pub is perfect for a casual lunch or dinner—serving everything from corned beef poutine and kale Caesar salad to bacon burgers and a kids’ menu cheese pizza. The pub also serves up an impressive variety of craft IPAs and ales from Vermont, including Long Trail, Hill Farmstead, von Trapp Brewing, Hermit Thrush, and Fiddlehead.
The more upscale yet family-friendly Willoughby’s is open for dinner, serving cheese plates, bacon wrapped scallops, and charcuterie for starters, and duck breast, halibut, and pork chops for the main entrees. Kids can choose from pizza, grilled cheese, and chicken tenders.
Fun on the Mountain
For early December, ski conditions were fantastic at Burke. We enrolled our 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe, in a two-hour private lesson with an instructor named Noah—who kept her busy riding the Magic Carpet, helping her practice her “French fries” and “pizza” skills, and even going sledding. Dave and I took our first runs of the season on the Willoughby trail and loved every minute of our time together.
After skiing, the three of us checked out the old Mid-Burke Lodge, a throwback, aprés ski spot up the hill from the hotel that’s a favorite among locals. We kicked back at a high top watching the snow fall outside. Phoebe sipped on hot chocolate and Dave and I nursed a couple von Trapp pilsners while a few inches of new snow coated the ground.
Sitting at the Mid-Burke Lodge with my family is one of those moments I’ll forever remember from this trip. Phoebe’s favorite part of the trip, besides skiing with instructor Noah, was spending time in the hotel’s Vertical Drop arcade, where she played bubble hockey, Skee Ball, Golden Tee Golf, and Big Buck Hunter. As far as game rooms go, my guess is that Vertical Drop will make a lot of kids very happy this winter.
Off-Mountain Dining and Activities
With the new hotel up and running, visiting Burke means you no longer have to go off-mountain for lodging, food, shopping, or even arcade games. But the small village of East Burke along Route 114 is worth exploring. A general store, restaurant, and shops can be found in the village. A few miles up on Darling Hill Road is where visitors can access Kingdom Trails for fat biking, snowshoeing, and Nordic skiing.
The Northeast Kingdom Country Store
Originally built in the mid-1800s, the two-story Northeast Kingdom Country Store is part deli, part gift shop, part wine cellar. Shop for maple syrup, antiques, pottery, and gifts, or sit down for a meal and enjoy tasty waffles, sandwiches, or pizza. The best part? Breakfast is served all day (466 Route 114, East Burke; 802-626-4611; www.nekcountrystore.com).
Burke Publick House
Just in back of the country store is the Burke Publick House (one called “The Pub Outback”). Enjoy wings, nachos, salads, burgers, chicken sandwiches, fish and chips, sirloin tips, pork chops, and more (482 Route 114, East Burke; 802-626-1188).
Juniper’s Restaurant at the Wildflower Inn
Innkeepers Jim and Mary O’Reilly have been at the helm of the cozy Wildflower Inn since 1985. Their restaurant, Juniper’s, is perfect for an off-mountain option. Enjoy steaks, burgers, salads, salmon, pasta, and more from their dining room, which overlooks the rolling hills of scenic Darling Hill (2059 Darling Hill Road, Lyndonville; 802-626-8310; www.wildflowerinn.com).
Fat Biking, Snowshoeing or Nordic Skiing on Kingdom Trails
Kingdom Trails is an extensive system of trails that can be enjoyed year round. About 25 miles of singletrack fat biking trails are open on the east side of Darling Hill Road as well as a portion of the west side. Summertime mountain biking favorites, such as Pines, Ridge to Rim, and Riverwood, can also be enjoyed in the winter. The Village Sports Shop Trailside shop on Darling Hill Road (next to the Wildflower Inn) and East Burke Sports on Route 114 offer fat bike rentals (802-626-0737; http://kingdomtrails.org).
I’ll never know why it took me 20 long years to return to Burke Mountain. But now more than ever, I am itching to go back.
For more information about Burke Mountain and the Burke Hotel & Conference Center, visit www.skiburke.com.
Erica Houskeeper is a writer and communications professional with nearly 20 years of experience. She grew up in Manchester, Vermont, and started skiing at age 4 at Bromley Mountain. She also spent her childhood skiing at Stratton, Magic, and the former Snow Valley ski area. After working as a journalist in Vermont, Erica later became director of communications for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. In 2009, she launched www.happyvermont.com, a Vermont travel blog that explores the places and people of the Green Mountain State. Her blog has hundreds of subscribers and a loyal following. Active on social media, Erica has more than 2,400 followers on Twitter (@EricaHouskeeper), as well as many Facebook friends and a growing audience on Instagram. She currently works as a communications and PR consultant, and lives in Burlington with her husband and young daughter.