If you’re like me, you may never have given much thought to Burke Mountain Resort. I mean sure, it’s the home of Burke Mountain Academy where the repeat Olympic and World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin trained. But it’s also tucked off to the side of Vermont, closer to New Hampshire’s White Mountains than the Green Mountains that are home to most of Vermont’s other ski areas.
But I’m here to tell you that if you’ve never really thought much about Burke, that should change right now. I was completely charmed by this lovely little resort and I think that if you knew its secrets, you would be too.
So what is Burke hiding up there in “last little corner of Vermont” as its brochures say?
Burke Has No Real Lines (of the Lift Variety)
We visited Burke during one of its busiest weeks of the year. Not only was it the Presidents Day holiday, the conditions were great. A snowstorm had just dumped nearly two feet of snow on northern New England, and some unexpected squalls only added to the base while we were there.
And while technically Burke has four lifts – two high-speed quads as well as a J-Bar and a T-bar – only one lift offers access to all of the mountain’s more challenging terrain. The Mid-Burke chairlift sits right above the resort’s large hotel and it would be reasonable to expect that there might be not only a significant line but also crowds on the trail. We were braced to wait and then pick our way down around the people.
But despite the fact that some of the regulars around us groaned to each other about the line, we never waited more than 15 minutes – and that was only on Sunday, which was the busiest day. More often than not, we skied right onto the lift. And better still, once we were on the mountain, we were often skiing pretty much by ourselves, especially in the trees. There were numerous runs where we were the only people whooping our way through the great powder in the glades.
Which leads me to the second secret about Burke.
Burke Has Tons of Trees
If you are someone who likes to ski in the woods, Burke is definitely your kind of hill. From the tight turns at the top of The Jungle to the looser, more open Dixiland, to the unnamed glades that are tucked into skier’s left of East Bowl, my boys and I skied them all and had a hard time choosing a favorite. Although I am partial to the fact that the gladed trail named Caveman actually has a small a cave to explore.
And if skiing in the trees isn’t your thing, because Burke is also full of racers who are busily training for world class careers, there are plenty of open trails as well. I think that they keep their many speedy blues groomed to perfection because lots of people who ski there like to imagine they are following in Shriffin’s tracks (which makes sense – she is the greatest skier in the world). My husband Matt certainly enjoyed these trails.
But he also liked the fact that Burke has some genuinely intermediate gladed trails, which gave him the chance to push himself outside his comfort zone and try some turns on the trees. This was not only a learning opportunity for him but a real confidence booster.
OK, so you won’t wait in line, and you’ll have the woods to yourself – what else is appealing about Burke Mountain Resort?
Burke is Beautiful
The views from the top of Burke Mountain are different than any you’ll get in other parts of Vermont. Look northeast and you’ll see the dramatic Willoughby Gap, a u-shaped divot carved by a glacier. A crystal blue lake by the same name floats between the two mountains. The Burke Mountain Hotel was designed to echo the landscape, and the natural gap is thus visible between its two wings.
On a clear afternoon, you can sit in the View Pub and enjoy a local beer with the gap as your backdrop.
Also visible from the top of the mountain on a clear day are the peaks of the Presidential Range. Burke is closer to the White Mountains than any other ski area in Vermont.
And the views aren’t the only thing that’s lovely about Burke. I don’t know if it’s because the mountain has so many wooded trails, but I found myself constantly stopping just to admire how pretty it was to ski. Whether I was on the aptly named Birches, a gladed trail covered with those graceful ivory trees or soaring down Powderhorn, a long blue groomer whose canopy only added to its pleasures, I was constantly struck by the beauty around me. In a state with many lovely mountains, it definitely stands out.In fact, it was so pretty – and the conditions were so good – that I never made it over to the Nordic Center to check out the trails there. Happily, another member of our group was their every day of our stay and said that it is equally stunning.
Of course, all that natural beauty wouldn’t be much fun if the people who hang out in it aren’t nice. But happily, Burke has that going for it too.
Burke is Friendly
We loved the chill vibe at Burke Mountain. There were lots of great skiers and riders, but no attitude. It was easy to chat with people on the lift and to get tips about where the good snow was or how to find the best unmarked glades.
Nowhere was this easygoing atmosphere as obvious as in the Bear Den in the Mid-Burke Lodge, which was perpetually crowded, cheerful and noisy and just a great spot to sip a local brew. When Matt and I stopped by for a beer on Sunday afternoon we discovered that a group of teenage boys had taken over the mike. We learned later that this local band was led by some of the ski patrollers’ sons. Apparently they are allowed to play a two-hour set every weekend (although word to the wise is that the second hour is likely to be a repeat of the first).
And it wasn’t just the grownups who were friendly. My 13-year-old son Teddy made friends with some boys on the chairlift on Sunday, met up with them in the hotel’s arcade that evening where they hatched a plan to ski together the next day. He said good bye the next morning and we didn’t see him until the end of the ski day.
So if a trip to beautiful, friendly Burke Mountain Resort is sounding good to you right now, you might go and check it out on a map. You’re likely to notice that Burke is pretty far north. In fact it’s less than 50 miles from the border with Canada. It would be easy to assume that this means the mountain is a kind of remote outpost. But I’ve got good news about that too.
Burke is Accessible
Burke is only about 20 minutes from Interstate 91, which offers a very easy cruise up the eastern side of Vermont from points south like Massachusetts, Connecticut, or, in our case, Delaware. In fact, it took us the same amount of time to get there as it does to get to Mad River Glen, which is about 75 miles to the southwest. It’s pretty unusual for a ski resort to be both pristinely isolated and an easy drive from the highway – but Burke Mountain Resort is both things.
(Also: the same is also true from the opposite direction – if you’re heading to Burke from Montreal, it is only about a two-and-half-hour drive away.)
I could go on about why Burke is the perfect place for families with young kids, about how they have a separate base area of the mountain just for new skiers, who can get their legs under them safely before venturing up to the steeper trails. Or how their graduated train park and easy wooded trails in that same part of the resort are perfect for younger kids who are adventurous but not quite ready for the big time yet. Or how the hotel has a huge downstairs lobby that feels like someone’s living room where I saw children running around in their pajamas while their parents enjoyed craft beer and a puzzle nearby. But I’d rather let you just find out for yourself.
Remember how I said Burke was a friendly place? We met multiple people at Burke who, when they learned that we were visiting for the first time, congratulated us for discovering it and said they hoped we would enjoy it. Then they asked us not to give away their secret. But some secrets are just too great to keep – and Burke Mountain Resort is definitely one of them.
Want to learn more? Read about my family’s multigenerational visit to Burke Mountain Resort.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.