AlpineZone Challenge 2011 – Tim McGuire 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. Tim McGuireVP and General Manager of Burke Mountain in Burke, Vermont, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 9/14/2011:

thetrailboss: Please provide us with details about the new summit lift project. Who is doing the work? When can folks expect it to be opening? What changes to terrain will be made to handle the increased traffic? What will the new lift trail be named?

Tim McGuire: Hopefully everyone has seen the press release which went out earlier this month, the lift is manufactured and will be installed by Leitner Poma, we are using a few local contractors to do some of the site and electrical work including Royal Trail Works and Royal Electric (unrelated companies). We expect an opening date for the new lift in mid December, as many know we didn’t finalize our contract until later than we would have hoped but we are still confident the new lift will be running for the Christmas Holiday. The new lift has been named the “Mid Burke Express”, see related question below about terrain changes.

deadheadskier: What is the intended operating schedule for the Willoughby Quad when the new summit lift goes in? Will you still offer the no lift line guarantee?

Tim McGuire: We anticipate that the new lift will be the main lift to the summit once it is up and running, we will still offer the lift line guarantee this season. We will run the Willoughby as a back up lift to the Mid Burke Express or if crowds and lift lines create a need for the Willoughby to run. Our goal is to maintain the classic un-crowded skiing experience that Burke is so well known for. In the future it is our intention to relocate the Willoughby lift to the East Bowl area when that expansion occurs.

thetrailboss: Probably the other largest issue with Burke is snowmaking. While a lot of work has been done on a couple of upper mountain trails and most of the lower mountain, Burke still does not cover a lot of the East Side and Burke lacks the firepower that a lot of areas have. Additionally, Burke’s season is relatively short. Can you detail what work we can expect on snowmaking in the next couple seasons, especially considering the new lift?

Tim McGuire: Although Burke’s snowmaking system is not the most powerful in the Northeast we feel it does an adequate job with the terrain we have, that is not to say it cannot be expanded to reach even more of Burke’s terrain. We have plans to make a number of improvements to our snowmaking system as our capital budget allows. Currently Burke rents diesel compressors for our air, this is a significant disadvantage as we are at the mercy of diesel fuel prices which have doubled in the last several years. A new electric compressor plant is very expensive but as soon as we are able to invest in that it will make our snowmaking operating budget much more predictable. We are also looking to bring in more fan gun technology which really helps open slopes in areas where we have adequate space in a much quicker time frame while moving us aware from our diesel dependence (most fan guns have on board electric compressors). We would also look to replace older guns with more efficient tower guns which reduce air consumption, as that progresses we would then add pumping capacity and snowmaking pipe on some of our other trails to expand coverage. With continued growth we are confident we can start implementing some of these snowmaking projects as soon as next year.

As far as our season is concerned we typically open one or two weeks later than some of the surrounding resorts due to a number of reasons, skiing in the early season is typically characterized by skiing on overcrowded, icy, 100% manmade snow surfaces which are not the most enjoyable conditions. Last year we skied until mid April with great spring conditions with just under 100% of our trails open and in seasons when we do have adequate early season snow we do open earlier, so although our season may be a few weeks shorter than some of the more crowded resorts the quality and number of trails open during our typical season are comparable.

thetrailboss: We received some questions about the Poma. From_the_nek asks if any local custom fabricators have been contacted to create a replacement for the broken POMA lift component.

And thetrailboss asked if you could provide more information about the Poma and its condition. Will it ever operate as a detachable lift again or has the Mountain Ops team decided to keep it as a fixed lift? Any thoughts about having it named as a historic landmark, since it was the first lift on the mountain? And can we expect it to remain in its current length and orientation? It would be a shame to shorten it since it offers a good back-up on windy days.

Tim McGuire: Yes we are using a local fabricator to replace some of the components that wore out over the years which resulted in the lift being used as a fixed grip lift last season, we are working on this lift now and expect the lift to operate as a detachable again this season. We have no plans to change the length or orientation of the lift now or in the future. We have not thought about having it named as a historic landmark but that is a great idea as it demonstrates history and perseverance of Burke, we will look into it.

from_the_NEK: Does Burke have any renderings for the new race timing building that could be posted online for the public to see?

Tim McGuire: Yes, a rendering is attached to this response, the timing building is being constructed by Burke Mountain Academy to replace the former building at the base of the Poma lift.

(Click Here for Rendering Download (PDF): Burke_Renderings)

from_the_NEK: How much longer is the current Mid-Burke lodge going to be around? Burkie’s needs to be saved or relocated. And can you give us an update as to the current master plan? Any thoughts about making the East Bowl area a large gladed area like Sugarloaf is doing?

Tim McGuire: There is no definite timetable for the Mid Burke lodge at this point, it will depend on the success of Burke as well as how long the building itself can persevere. As we are sure many of Burke’s patrons can attest, it is a fun lodge with a ton of character but physically it is in rough shape. I would also argue that what makes “Burkie’s” so great is not the building itself but rather the patrons and employees that make it special. We are confident a new lodge could be built that would incorporate as much of the character of the existing lodge (simple, relaxed atmosphere, and great views) to make it just as special as the original.

Burke will be having a local community meeting on September 22nd to share updates to the Master plan, part of the talk will be about the East Bowl area which is intended to stay as gladed and natural as possible.

riverc0il: Will Burke further cut back classic winding narrow trails (a la the already widened Willoughby) to accommodate the increased traffic of the High Speed Quad? If yes, isn’t that like killing the goose that laid the golden egg?

Burke separates itself from the marketplace due to its old school trails and classic topography. How can Burke sustain itself as a classic old school mountain with both a high speed lift AND flattened and widened trails? Can you put Burke loyalists at ease on this subject or will Burke trails see additional widening and regrading?

Tim McGuire: No – there are no plans to widen any of the existing trails at Burke, we realize there were some proposals by Ginn to do that but we also realize a big part of what makes Burke special are the classic winding trails that can no longer be found at most major resorts in the northeast.

We are glad this came up as it pertains to a fact we’re particularly proud of regarding the capacity of the new Mid Burke Express compared to the Willoughby. The new express lift will have capacity of 1800 people per hour (pph) while the Willoughby was 1650 pph – less than a 10% increase. The upper lift serves over 210 acres of terrain, we don’t know of another resort in the northeast that can boast having over 210 acres of terrain served by two lifts (poma and new express) that have a combined uphill capacity of less than 2200 skiers per hour (poma capacity is just under 400 skiers per hour). And even if the Willoughby is run simultaneously on busy days that leaves over 210 acres with less than 4000 skiers per hour, still one of if not the most uncrowded ski experience in the northeast.

Hopefully this will put current and future Burke loyalists minds at ease.

from_the_NEK: Has Burke ever considered hosting a panel of interested parties (day skiers/riders, homeowner skiers/riders, mountain bikers, etc) to provide input on future development to mountain management?

Jay Peak did this several years ago as they were ramping up for their master build-out. Riverc0il (a highly respected member of this forum) was invited to and attended their panel. It sounds like Jay took the suggestions very seriously as they didn’t want to alienate their current customers by just building a bunch of stuff that looks good on paper (and to the “”money holders”") but rather improve their overall experience for all parties.

Tim McGuire: We are always open to input from interested parties on future development – its where we typically get some our best ideas. In February of 2010 we convened a panel regarding the direction for the resort real estate (not so much ski specific) that was attended by a number of local community members.

Although we are looking to make significant changes and improvements to Burke, we are in no way in the position to spend hundreds of millions of dollars that could change the entire character of Burke – nor would we if we had that ability. As we’ve worked on our future plans, we have come to realize that Burke was almost unique among Vermont ski areas with our on-snow offering and it’s something we want to preserve for current and future skiers and riders. Although continued input is essential we don’t feel we will ever have such drastic changes that it will require a complete re-evaluation of the resort from our customers. That being said when we do hold another formal panel, we will solicit AlpineZone for representatives to attend.

from_the_NEK: It is also good to see the close partnership between Burke Mountain and Kingdom Trails Assoc. It looks like the lift served mountain biking has been a big win for both sides. With addition of the new HSQ, has there been talk of offering lift served MTB off of the summit in coming years? Has there been any thought to hosting a “”Race Weekend”" with the road bike hill climb, a downhill, and maybe a 12 hour cross country race all in the same weekend (or maybe spread it out over a few weekends)? Burke is really turning into a summer destination for biking. It is even fairly busy there on weekdays.

Tim McGuire: At this point we have no plans to run the summit lift for lift served mountain biking, we still have numerous trails that can be developed on the lower mountain and to be honest the upper mountain is too steep for all but the most extreme riders. We feel the trails that can be constructed on the lower mountain can provide challenges to all ability levels, if and when we run out of room on the lower mountain we would then begin to look more closely at the upper mountain terrain.

We are trying to see how we can improve and expand biking events at Burke in the future, we currently hold the bike and brew festival in August, a hill climb race in September, a cross country race around the mountain in October, and this year we are holding a college downhill race on the lower mountain (lift served) trails also in October. In the future it would be nice if we could combine some of these events with a Vermont or Northeast Mountain Bike Associate event for a true large scale festival. It is something we are aware of and would like to see come together – stay tuned…

from_the_NEK: Has Burke ever considered establishing a “”Seeded”" mogul trail? While Burke has some good natural moguls, the offerings are not really very numerous. Additionally, since there are not very many offerings for the intermediate bump skier to work on technique, so they are forced into skiing the often irregular advanced bumps that are typically on Burke’s steeper terrain, often flailing/scraping their way down. I feel having a seeded mogul trail for aspiring bumpers to work on technique would actually improve the quality of moguls across the entire mountain. Good locations include the skier’s right side of Little Dipper and The Gap.

Tim McGuire: We have not, before I came to Burke I worked at Wachusett which had some seeded bumps and to be honest as someone who enjoys skiing bumps I have never liked a seeded trail – they actually seem to be much more unnatural which is odd since they are typically formed very precisely. Our bumps on Doug’s, lower Dougs, Wilderness, Foxes, Ledges, and skiers right of Willoughby (not to mention every glade) provide a fairly well rounded compliment of bump runs, although I agree they are weighted to the more advanced skier, there are a number of intermediate runs in there. And as Riverc0il indicated above wouldn’t man made seeded bumps go against what true classic skiing is all about?

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