One of the best things about skiing is that the sport offers something for everyone. Beginner or expert, steep and deep or rolling, gentle terrain, big bumps or groomed corduroy. Whatever you want, skiing provides. Ski lodging should offer the same range of experiences, places that help you start the day, and end it, just the way you like.
For me, there are only really two types of ski accommodations. Condos certainly have their place, as do traditional ski clubhouses and sprawling resorts a quick bus ride from the hill. But if you pressed me for my favorites, there are only two: A cozy bed and breakfast brimming with nostalgia, or a trailside hotel chock-full of amenities. For years, East Burke, Vt., has boasted two of the finest bed & breakfasts — the Wildflower Inn and the Inn at Mountain View Farm — in ski country, and my family and I have enjoyed staying at both properties. Both are quintessential New England inns, with the Wildflower a little more folksy, and the Mountain View a bit more elegant. Both also require a drive to the hill.
Now, the girls and I have another terrific option, one that falls into the second category of slopeside lodging. The stately Burke Mountain Hotel & Conference Center, a beautiful “ski in, ski out” facility built alongside the area’s rustic Mid-Burke Lodge, is a game-changer, providing visitors to this idyllic ski area in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom lodging right beside the trails.
The new hotel also has a history, albeit a brief one, which, given the historic nature of East Burke and Burke Mountain, can’t be ignored. Florida developer Ariel Quiros bought Burke Mountain in 2012 for $7.2 million, on the heels of his purchase and renovation of Jay Peak in partnership with Northeast Kingdom resident and then Jay president Bill Stenger.
Quiros and Stenger constructed a massive new hotel and aquatic center at Jay Peak, employing funding provided by the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program that gave foreign investors who contributed $500,000 a clear path to citizenship. Bolstered by their resounding success at Jay, Quiros and Stenger planned to use the same financing method to build a hotel, a tennis facility and an aquatic center at Burke.
Only the hotel got built, due to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing a litany of charges against Quiros and Stenger, stemming from what federal officials called a $200 million “Ponzi-like” development scheme. But whatever the fate of Quiros and Stenger — and Quiros did plead guilty to a number of charges last summer — the Burke Mountain Hotel and Conference Center is seen as a welcomed addition.
“The one positive legacy left behind from the (Quiros) era was the arrival of the hotel,” said Tony Ong, a Burke regular from Andover, Mass. “I feel like it bolsters the mountain in several important ways, from adding sorely needed lodging capacity to providing a needed base lodge alternative to the venerable Mid-Burke Lodge.”
Burke, as Seven Days VT reporter Mark Davis wrote in 2016, “has always been an overgrown locals’ mountain, attracting loyal residents and some out-of-town devotees who revel in the high-quality skiing.”
“It has had just enough fans to keep the mountain running — most of the time — but never enough to place it on firm financial footing,” wrote Davis. “Industry observers said it needed a hotel.”
Vermont state and ski officials agreed.
“The down-home, easily-accessible-because-there-weren’t-crowds feel is great for the skier loyal to the mountain, but it doesn’t serve the long-term sustainability of any ski area in Vermont,” former Ski Vermont president Parker Riehle told Seven Days VT in 2016. “For years we always said about Burke, ‘It’s a great place to ski, but there’s no place to stay.’ It was almost a tagline for them.”
In short, the ski area needed to give people more reasons to exit sooner off I-91, instead of driving the extra 30 miles to Jay Peak. Burke Mountain Hotel is one of those reasons. Recognizing that the resort is still in court-ordered receivership, Ong said the hotel “provides a new and hopefully sustained four-season revenue source that stabilizes the finances and will be helpful in attracting the next owner. I think that as long as the hotel and, of course, Burke Mountain Academy, are around, Burke Mountain will continue to survive and thrive.”
Burke Mountain Hotel, first opened in 2016, is an attractive structure. It features two wings connected by a timber-framed lodge, drawing immediate comparisons to Jay Peak’s Tram Haus Lodge. Built halfway up the mountain, just down the slope from the area’s mid-mountain high-speed lift, it fulfills not only my “ski in, ski out” requirement, but also offers breathtaking views of the ski area and Willoughby Gap to the north in nearby Westmore.
Like many new structures, the Burke Mountain Hotel does feel a little bland and a little antiseptic — not a bad thing during a pandemic — and will need some time to develop some character (much like the Mid-Burke Lodge, which was thankfully spared the wrecking ball that Quiros had planned for it). With plenty of wood paneling and granite, the new lodging complex appears to be striving for that sweet spot between highfalutin and functional.
“It’s nice, clean and comfortable,” said Paul Dixon, a Burke regular from Thetford, Vt. “I’ve stayed there with a few other families, and also with the alpine high school team I coach who made it to the state meet.
“That was a sight to see, with 150 high school athletes all staying in the same hotel for the weekend,” said Dixon. “The pool and hot tub were very popular and probably needed an extra dose of chlorine after the weekend. The hotel is clean and modern, but does feel a bit un-Burke at the same time.”
Now, if you really press the issue, Dixon will admit he prefers the Burke Village Inn in East Burke, which is another excellent lodging option. Does the Burke Mountain Hotel have the same charm as the Burke Village Inn? Nope. But is the Burke Village Inn located slopeside? Nope. And that, for me, gives the new hotel the edge.
The Burke Mountain Hotel does boast numerous amenities for families — a major market for Burke — with a family arcade (OK, maybe just the kids), an outdoor pool and hot tub (the latter is open year round), a fitness room, the View Pub (“The Jamaican Jerk Wings at the View Pub deserve a specific shoutout,” said Ong), Willoughby’s Restaurant, and an all-season, 5,000-square-foot banquet and/or meeting space for weddings and other events, like business meetings.
On the lodging side, the hotel boasts 116 suites ranging from studio one-, two- and three-bedroom models. Studios, for example, will have a king or split-king beds, a fireplace (deluxe studio only), single bath with walk-in shower or bath tub, a TV, and small dining table and two chairs, and queen-size sleeper sofa (deluxe studio only). One-bedroom suites have split-king beds, a fireplace in the living room, two TVs (living room and bedroom), a dining table with four chairs, and queen-size pull-out sleeper sofa. Many have balconies.
Moving up the room chain, the two-bedroom suites have a master bedroom with king-size or split-king bed and a master bathroom, a second bedroom with king or split-king beds, a fireplace in the living room, three TVs (living room, master bedroom and second bedroom), a second bath with walk-in shower or tub, a dining table with five or more chairs, a kitchen bar with stools, and a queen-size pull-out sleeper sofa. Finally, the three-bedroom suites, located on the hotel’s fifth floor, feature a master bedroom and master bathroom with shower, a second bedroom with a private bathroom and shower, a third bedroom, a third bathroom (not connected to a bedroom) with walk-in shower or tub, a fireplace in living room, three TVs (living room, master bedroom and second bedroom), a dining table with eight chairs, a kitchen bar with stools, and a queen-size pull-out sleeper sofa.
Depending on their size, the suites are equipped with kitchenettes (with cooktop, sink, dishwasher, coffee pot and oversized mini-fridge but no dishwasher) or full kitchens (with stove or oven, dishwasher, sink, coffee pot and refrigerator with freezer), with limited kitchen amenities upon request (call ahead for details on individual units). I can’t stress enough the importance of having a well-stocked kitchenette or kitchen. First, Burke typically requires a long drive, which usually translates to a strong desire to simply park the car and pocket the keys. A full kitchen lets the driver (usually me, in my clan) kick back and relax. I can’t put a price on that.
Second, skiing isn’t cheap. One of the best ways we keep expenses under control is to bring our own food and libations. A Port-A-Bar is a must, and a premade casserole or lasagna is a great way to cap off the long haul to East Burke or a day on the hill. Having breakfast supplies will let you (and the kids) grab a few extra winks in the morning, and, of course, the Burke Mountain Hotel’s stellar location allows everyone to grab lunch together at your suite. If you’ve forgotten anything, like snacks, Bear Essentials is located on the first floor of the hotel next to the front desk, where you’ll find a variety of pre-packaged and premade essentials as well as retail items (open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily).
All that said, the Bear Den tavern at nearby Mid-Burke Lodge is a genuine Old School treat, and I highly recommend everyone to stop in for a trip to yesteryear. Knowing that the hotel is just a short walk (or glide) away also provides a nice sense of security.
For those with the financial wherewithal to go skiing without checking their bank accounts, there are more dining options. At the hotel, there’s the aforementioned View Pub on the second floor (currently opened daily, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., with advanced reservations required for indoor dining), with appetizers like poutine (for those of French-Canadian persuasion) and french onion bruschetta, sandwiches like a black bean burger or beer-boiled brat, and entrees ranging from duck confit, beef stroganoff, and curry ramen noodles (entrees served after 4 p.m.). At the time of publication, Willoughby’s Restaurant and Edmunds Coffee Shop at the hotel remained closed.
Other dining choices close by include the Tamarack Pub and Grill on the second floor of the Sherburne Base Lodge (open Saturday and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), serving a variety of Southern-style sandwiches — the beef brisket sandwich and pulled pork sandwich are two favorites — and kid-friendly lunch items, and the Tacos Del Reino food truck, located beside the Sherburne Lodge, serving up pork, beef, chicken and veggie soft-shelled grilled tacos Thursday through Sunday (and all week during holidays).
In East Burke, there are a number of excellent options just a short drive away, including the Foggy Goggle Osteria and the Publik House for dinner, Aunt Dee Dees for baked goods, and Cafe Lotti for great sandwiches and coffee.
On the romantic side of the ski equation, many of the Burke Mountain Hotel’s suites have balconies. In my humble opinion, when it comes to affairs of the heart, there’s nothing better than enjoying a star-filled evening on a balcony, sharing a chilled glass of good bubbly (yes, I’m writing this on the eve of Valentine’s Day weekend). For workaholics and Internet junkies alike, all suites have complimentary Wi-Fi. The satellite TVs, with a full compliment of premium channels, also are standard.
Every suite also offers daily housekeeping, which is included in the room rates. For those booking an extended stay, the hotel also features a coin-operated guest laundry facility (an important factor for parents of teenagers, I’m certain). As an added reassurance, the hotel is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so assistance for any inconvenience or emergency is just a quick phone call away.
Speaking of emergencies, or necessities, ski rental and repairs are available at Burke’s Sherburne Base Lodge, or in town at East Burke Sports and Village Sport Shop in nearby Lyndonville (both also are terrific retail outlets).
In the face on the ongoing pandemic, the hotel also has incorporated a number of precautions, collectively called the “Burke Safeway Promise.” To ensure the safety of guests and staff members, the hotel is currently requiring daily self-wellness checks (including temperature checks) for all employees prior to all work shifts, washing and sanitizing hands multiple times throughout the day, completion of Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Agency and resort COVID safety training, and the establishment of a COVID response plan for every department.
Implementing their “Mind the Gap” campaign, hotel officials are requiring parties to designate one person to represent the group at check-in. To minimize contact, housekeeping services are available only by calling the front desk throughout each stay. Daily turnover of bedding won’t be completed unless specifically requested (requests and replenishments can be made by calling the front desk).
All guest rooms will be “rested,” or left unoccupied, between each stay for 24 hours to allow cleaning and sanitizing. Upon arrival, visitors will find that each hotel suite will have a seal on the door confirming the Clean Team was the last to exit each sanitized suite. Luggage carts will be available and tagged “clean” by the Clean Team. Finally, while the recommended changing of filters for the hotel’s air handling system is twice a year, hotel officials are changing the filters four times a year to ensure a fresh clean air flow throughout the building.
Clearly, Burke Mountain Hotel officials, much like Vermont state health officials, are taking the pandemic seriously. For serious skiers and snowboarders, a slopeside hotel provides more of what they want, which is time on the hill. This new hotel checks all the boxes. ′