For winter lovers, the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is about what it sounds like, a winter kingdom well on the way to Montreal. In fact, from the summit of Jay Peak — also in the Northeast Kingdom — you can see the lights of Montreal at night.
Burke Mountain Resort is less heralded than Jay but has plenty to boast about, including a 2,011-foot vertical drop, 55 runs and an annual average snowfall of 217 inches.
And if all that doesn’t get you to take a serious look, Burke is home to Burke Mountain Academy, the ski school that has sent more skiers to the Olympics than any other ski school in the East. That includes, by the way, Mikaela Shiffrin, heir apparent to Lindsey Vonn as the world’s best female skier.
Well, all those young hotshot skiers and boarders have to be skiing and riding on terrain that hones their skills, and for us recreational types, Burke is a sheer delight and quite varied for most skill levels.
While the upper mountain contains mostly blue and advanced-rated terrain, lower Burke has some wide-open, green-rated practice terrain and very doable trails for those lower intermediates looking to stretch their skills on some more challenging trail runs. Runs such as Upper and Lower Dipper and Willoughby are excellent trails on which most skiers will find confidence.
From the summit of Burke, up the Mid-Burke Express quad, the distant view is of the mountain gap between Mount Willoughby and Mount Hor, which rise on either side of the beautiful fjord of Lake Willoughby. After some sightseeing to loosen up, we take the signature run on Burke — East Bowl, which curls down the eastern perimeter of the mountain much like the Wildcat Trail does at Wildcat, with about the same variety of pitch and terrain angles, with more steeps. It is rated a black diamond and has spots that earn this distinction, with much of it cruisy blue.
We last skied this run after a good dumping the day before, and most of the run was lightly tracked pow, maybe 8 inches. It was ungroomed, or course, but pretty light, so over the first flattish inrun, the going proved to be easy and silky. It led into some soft moguls, caused mostly by those who had skied before us.
As the first pitch, not steep, was about 50 feet wide, we did some quick series turns to warm up before the first slight hump slowed us down, then led to a nice face. And then dropping, picking up speed, the trail takes a right and narrows. And now you know why this run is called a typical old-world New England run. You have to turn in the narrow track with trees so close by the trail edges — no berm or bank.
We switchbacked up another hump, then descended a narrow, steep pitch, and now we’re really rolling down a thrilling pitch, and a series of similar undulations that felt a little like the Chicken Bumps on Sugarloaf’s Tote Road, though there was no one big face like Chicken Pitch on East Bowl.
The trail goes out to the eastern perimeter, then bends to the left. Watch the forks: there’s a quick right followed by a quicker left, then there’s a steep pitch that leads to an easier pitch. For the bottom quarter, you must keep speed up or you’ll end up with a few ascents in which, if you’re too slow, you’ll pole a few yards before reaching another hilltop to descend. This becomes the final pattern until the trail merges with lower Dipper Doodle, a wide groomed run leading to the base area.
This is a fine long run, and skiers looking for improvement in skill and conditioning should try it without a stop.