AlpineZone Challenge 2004 – David Gwatkin of Burke Mountain


The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. David GwatkinDirector of Marketing and Sales at Burke Mountain Ski Area in East Burke, Vermont, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 5/28/2004:

riverc0il: The only negative comment almost anyone has to say about Burke is the slow speed of the quad. Some of us enjoy the slow ride up and the much needed time to catch our breath after dropping into some of Burke’s awesome glade and bump runs! But for everyone else, is there any long or short term plans to upgrade the lift to either a faster fixed grip or high speed lift? If the quad can’t be sped up, can foot rests be added?

David Gwatkin: First of all, I want to thank everyone for submitting their Burke-related questions. We have such a dedicated following here at Burke, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that readers are chiming in.

The bottom line answer to your question is that there are no immediate plans for speeding up the existing quad, replacing the existing quad with a detachable high speed or adding a high speed quad to compliment our existing quad. Having said that, there are longer range “intentions” for upgraded and additional lifts, but all in the context of a capital improvement strategy to the entire area. It’s important for readers to understand that after the last owner of Burke was forced to foreclose, the primary objective for the current management team has been to stabilize the ski area financially. We’re making progress in this regard, but as we prioritize what’s necessary to keep the ski area viable, a major investment in lifts at this juncture could be damaging to the long-term health of business.

In approaching this subject from a different angle, a concern voiced by many of our season pass-holders is how high-speed lifts would/could change the very character people love about Burke. Granted, a high-speed lift gets you to the top faster. But that knife has two edges, because it gets everyone else up the hill faster too. So, what these lifts ultimately accomplish is to simply move the crowd from the base to the slopes. I’m pretty well convinced that part of the reason skiers and riders love Burke is because once you’re off the lift, whether you’re cruising corduroy on the Dippers or raging through the Throbulator glade, the trail is all your own. A high speed lift surely would impact that part of the Burke experience.

riverc0il: Has the inclusion of Burke’s glades in the official trail count helped bring in more skiers and are there any plans to either add to that count or cut more glades?

David Gwatkin: I have no definitive data suggesting we’ve attracted more skiers/riders with the expansion of the glades. However, in a challenging 2003/04 season in the Northeast, where skier visits were down approximately 10% statewide in VT, Burke missed last year’s skier visits by just 1%. Perhaps word of mouth among our “glade junkies” had an impact on our skier visits. Regarding plans, we actually have more glades out there than we’ve represented on our maps. Last year, we went from 50 acres to 110 acres of skiable glade terrain. We still have a ton of glades out beyond the Birches in the West Bowl. We’re doing some additional clearing and marking out there this summer and fall and will have it displayed on our 2004/05 trail map.

riverc0il: Could you name same racers from the Burke Mountain Academy that have gone on to become Olympians and/or excelled on the World Cup?

David Gwatkin: Off the top of my head: Diane Rolffe, Eric Schlopy, Julie Parisean, the Pinckett brothers (xc), Shane McKonkey (extreme skier).

riverc0il: Any new and exciting improvements to Burke planned for the 2004-2005 ski season?

David Gwatkin: Again, it’s all about priorities in the context of our financial situation. We’re more likely to improve our grooming machine fleet than paint the base lodge.

Greg: Burke is similar to Jay and Sugarloaf in that it is a long drive for those in central and southern New England. How do you overcome the challenge that there are many other ski resorts that are closer to the large metropolitan areas? I feel Sugarloaf’s remoteness adds to its uniqueness and appeal somewhat. Do you feel Burke shares this characteristic, and why or why not?

David Gwatkin: You know, at last November’s Boston Winter Sports Show at the Bayside Expo, Tony Chamberlain, the outdoors writer for the Boston Globe came up to me and said, “Burke Mountain, the closest Vermont ski area to Boston.” And he walked away. Now, we can debate all day about which ski area is closer as the crow flies or in travel time, but what Tony was really talking about was the misperception that exists, particularly in southern New England, that Burke and northeastern Vermont are “too far away”, as if we’re north of Quebec City or something. Fact is, Burke is conservatively 3 hrs from Boston and 3.5 hrs from Hartford (your drive time may vary ), and all interstate driving. When one accounts for the “rural traffic jams” that occur getting to other ski areas along the spine of the green mountains, total drive time isn’t that different. Your point is a good one, because a critical fact that I cannot ignore in my role is, in order to get to Burke, whether from I-93 or I-91, skiers and riders must pass quite a few exits for other ski areas. So, we focus on what Burke offers and not on what it doesn’t. Burke is genuine. Burke is authentic. Burke is real New England. Burke: the anti-megaresort! Burke and Jay are in Vermont’s snowbelt. Burke: no lift lines. Etc.

teachski: I’ve been to Burke a few times when they were collecting donations for the Friends of Burke, what does that money go toward?

David Gwatkin: Donations to the Friends of Burke program go to a local non-profit organization called Kingdom Kids. Kingdom Kids gives youngsters who otherwise would not be able to afford skiing or riding the chance to do so. This past year, 36 local kids were able to ski or ride at Burke through the Kingdom Kids program. Through this program, these kids are provided equipment, lessons and lift tickets all season long. There isn’t much we’re more proud of at Burke than the Kingdom Kids program.

teachski: Have you considered putting some sort of lift near the East Bowl and clearing a few more trails on that side of the mountain? I love the East Bowl, except for the flat sections going in and coming out.

David Gwatkin: This idea has not only been considered in the past, we actually have the permit approval to do it. Again, in the context of our long term priorities, I wouldn’t anticipate that area being opened up in the near future. Someday we hope to expand the skiability and accessibility of the East Bowl area. For now, the East Bowl offers phenomenal glade skiing, with great views of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.

teachski: Do the students and employees of the mountain school also work at the ski area? Are there any policies for or against this?

David Gwatkin: The students and faculty at the Burke Mountain Academy (BMA) run all the ski races at the ski area. Plus, BMA manages Burke’s Junior Race Program, giving the young athletes exposure to world class athletes and coaches. That alone, we feel, distinguishes our junior racing program from any other in the U.S.

salida: Burke is a relatively high mountain. Which means that it could theoretically be used for late season skiing. Have you ever thought about making a huge patch of snow on the summit of the mountain and letting people use the auto road to access the snow. Just a thought, if this has never been considered, is it a possibility in the future?

David Gwatkin: It would have to be economically viable. If something like what you’ve suggested were to happen, it would most likely be on the front end of the season, when skiers and riders are more anxious for the season to get started, rather than the tail end of the season (spring), when they tend to be in more of a summertime frame of mind.

ChileMass: When I think of Burke, I think of the racing program. Thank goodness Burke continues to carry the flag for Northeastern ski racing. Tell us about your program – how to sign up younger kids, which racing organizations are involved, schedules, contacts, etc. Do you have more activity in the girls/women’s program these days or in the boys/means? The same? Tell us about future plans for the program and how the mountain uses the race program in its marketing mix.

David Gwatkin: Well, thanks. We’re certainly proud to be the “beating heart”, if I may use that expression, of East Coast ski racing. It’s certainly gratifying to see so many ski teams from the club, h.s., college levels and beyond come to practice on Warren’s Way.

The Junior Race Program is managed by BMA, as I said earlier. This gives youngsters access to big time former Olympians and world class coaching. Plus, our program is about the most affordable program anywhere. These two variables combined make it hard to argue against Burke having the best valued racing program around. For more information, call us at the mountain at (802)626-3322 or visit our web site.

Frankly I (we) feel we’re probably underutilizing Burke’s reputation as a mecca for ski racers from a marketing perspective. The vast majority of the skiing public is largely unaware of the ski racing sport. It’s strictly a recreation for most. However, there surely is value in stating that Olympic champions, past and future, train here, even if most skiers/riders look upon a racing course with little more than curiosity.

Thanks everyone for your questions. Stop by to introduce yourself at the Hartford and/or Boston ski shows next fall. DG

To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: width=