AlpineZone Challenge 2005 – 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 7/15/2005:

Greg:  In my observation, Burke has a very strong following among online skiers and riders. I can honestly say that I’ve never read a negative comment on the various skiing message boards I follow. In fact, most comments are extremely positive and complimentary. Why do you feel Burke has such a powerful, almost cultish group of supporters within the online skiing community? Has this vibe helped attract new visitors to Burke that might otherwise get off an earlier exit on the interstates?

David Gwatkin: Greg: , “No posers”. That’s how the lure that is Burke was described to me very recently, and I think that about sums it up. True or not, Burke has the reputation among purists as their kind of mountain. In terms of culture, often I hear Burke and Mad River Glen talked about as kindred spirits, and though there are differences between the two, I’m quite comfortable with the comparison (I’ll bet Eric would be too). On another popular on-line ski site, Burke has been rated the #1 ski area in Vermont two years running. So, it seems to me that among those visiting alpine-focused Web sites, there’s considerable enthusiasm for Burke.

JoshuaB: Will the Willoughby Quad be replaced anytime soon? Will the Mountain Poma stay around for a while? Any other plans regarding the other lifts?

David Gwatkin: Joshua, The Sherburne Chair, a fixed grip double servicing the lower part of the mountain, will be replaced this summer and fall with a high-speed detachable quad from Leitner-Poma. Engineering has already started. Construction will start in July. We’ll have it ready for the start of the season in early December. It is possible the Willoughby Quad will be replaced with a high-speed, detachable quad chairlift prior to the 2006/07 season. I want to emphasize, possible. No guarantees. As readers of are aware, Burke2000, owners of the ski area, has been in on-going negotiations with an “unnamed” outfit. If this partnership comes to fruition, the chances of the new chair increase. That’s all I can say right now, because that’s all I know. The historic Poma lift servicing Upper and Lower Warren’s Way is going nowhere. We love it. It’s as fun going up as it is going down, and it’s been the fastest lift we have for some time now — until this year, with the high-speed quad.

thetrailboss:  David, there have been two articles in The Caledonian Record as well as some local talk about Burke negotiating with several parties who are interested in buying the mountain. I understand that you probably can’t say too much, but can you provide us with some more information? What are future plans? Any solid plans for lifts and trails? The Caledonian is reporting that the Ginn Group is looking at the mountain. Was this the Florida investor who wanted to buy the mountain in 2000? Also, I and many other locals are concerned that though Ginn has said that they will keep the mountain open to the public, it will become an elitist mountain through either exorbitant ticket rates (like Stratton) or worse by making it a ‘gated’ community (like Bear Creek). Do you have any comments? Will some of the management remain in place at least for the first season under the new management? I certainly hope that the resort retains its character and that the new owner keeps the mountain accessible for the locals and, most importantly, for BMA and the area school kids.

David Gwatkin: Trailboss, The article Jeane Miles wrote in the Cal Record a couple of weeks ago was a solid piece of research and reporting. RE: lifts, see above. Additionally, you’ll see a much improved snow making system next year. New tower guns, replacement of a lot of aged piping and a new pump on the upper mountain to move water much faster. In short, the snowmaking will allow us to increase our overall coverage and open trails much quicker than ever before. You’ll see some trail work, but not much this year. A new connector trail between the new drop off point of the new lower mtn high speed quad and the Willoughby Chair, because the new chair will end 150 feet lower than the Sherburne does now. I know nothing about a group from FL in 2000, but it’s highly unlikely it’s the same outfit. Contingent on any deal was retaining the character of Burke. A significant part of that character is Burke’s connection to its community. That connection was non-negotiable. It’s safe to say, no matter what changes become of Burke, 5 or 10 years from now, you’ll still recognize this place as Burke. As of now, our management team will remain in place. What the future holds there, I do not know. Personally, I hope to be here a long time.

Bob R:  On my visit to Burke with AlpineZone, I was told about the “Lucky Tree” near the summit of the Willoughby Quad. What is the legend or story?

David Gwatkin: Bob, Sorry, man, I know nuttin’ about that tree, other than every time I go by I wonder how those panties got there.

teachski: Will Burke continue to offer the wonderful deals they have arranged with some of the local motels for the next season? Coming from Central MA, where it’s just a little too long to be a day trip, this is important.

David Gwatkin: Teachski, Our Lodging Program is as strong as ever. Since the ski area does not own any of the lodging here, partnering with local lodges is important to our business. The Ski-n-Stay packages are safe.

awf170: I’m not from the area, but I was wondering if there were any plans for a discounted high school student pass? I have one for Wildcat, but I would like to give Burke a try for a season. Also, will Burke continue to offer the reciprocal program with Jay Peak and the Balsam’s Wilderness? Any other deals that Burke Passholders get at other mountains (such as Cannon, Bretton Woods, Dartmouth Skiway)?

David Gwatkin: Awf170, No plans for a discounted h.s. pass for this year. We’ve got a heck of a deal ($199) once you get to college, though. I’ll tell you what. Our h.s. pass is only $339 right now. With our Easy Payment Plan, you can sign up for it now, lock in that price and make monthly payments of only $47 between now and December. Cash flow management. A full-priced/7-day-a-week Burke pass is reciprocal at Jay M-F, with discounted tickets on the weekends. With a Burke pass, you also get 50% off lift tickets at Dartmouth Skiway, Cannon and Balsams/Wilderness. Plus, major discounts at area businesses who also partner with us. Check it out this page.

thetrailboss:  Are there any plans to complete the Little Dipper expansion? I’ve noticed that there are snowmaking pipes that have been laid underneath the Toll Road where the trail is slated to extend someday. What is the proposed/permitted route of that new trail (up through Carriage Road)? Any plans for snowmaking on Doug’s Drop?

David Gwatkin: Trailboss, Trail work this year will be concentrated on the lower mountain, near the Sherburne Chair. I’m not aware of any current plans for trail expansion on the Dippers. Doug’s Drop is not slated for snowmaking improvements for this year.

teachski: It’s been great seeing and speaking with representatives from Burke at the Ski and Snowsports Show in Boston the past few years. Do you plan to be there this fall, and if so, can you bring some of the new design sticker? I need one to put on my website (

David Gwatkin: Teachski, We’ll be there. Have stickers, will travel. Send me your email address and I’ll zip you a gif copy of the logo for your Web site.

thetrailboss:  As someone who benefited from my local school’s ‘learn to ski’ program at Burke, I am thrilled to see that you have opened the slopes to thousands of kids every season. I’ve learned that they come from a long ways away too. Why do you think that other mountains are dropping these programs? Have you found that these kids are returning later in life? Do you think that Vermont ski areas, as a whole, are beginning to forget about the local skiers and riders in their own backyard or even pricing them out of the sport?

David Gwatkin: Trailboss, If what you say is true, I can’t imagine why our competitors would walk away from programs like Burke’s School Program. Margins? Maybe, but we all need mid-week skiers/riders. Heck, one of our primary goals – I’m speaking as an industry as a whole here – is to encourage future generations of downhill skiers/riders. Plus, the tendency is for one to ski most at the area where they successfully conquered the sport. Why would any business turn their back on a new customer? I doubt any ski area would turn their back on any part of the market. But, the cost of operating a ski area is undoubtedly an expensive undertaking. That in turn drives up the cost of a lift ticket. I think ‘price’ is relative. For instance, last year an adult weekend ticket at Burke was $47, one the cheapest in Vermont. Here in the Northeast Kingdom, per capita incomes are among the lowest in the Northeast. That $47 was a big chunk of jing for our local folks. Now, I speak with folks from “downcountry” (southern NE), as we say up here, where per capita incomes are among the highest in the country, and they absolutely RAVE about the value at Burke. What does that tell me? $47 doesn’t hurt the guy from Boston at all. No one is intentionally pricing anyone out, but the cost of the sport may be pushing some into other wintertime activities, unfortunately.

thetrailboss:  Last season was not the best for snowmaking. During my visit in March with some fellow AZer’s, we noticed that Upper Warrens was unusually barren. I talked to some locals who said that this trail had been covered first and then the snow melted. I thought that this was one of the last to be covered? Any improvements to snowmaking for this season (new guns, etc)? Kudos on blowing snow on trails such as Upper Fox’s and Middle Fox’s Folly. How about some more on Ledges?

David Gwatkin: Trailboss, See above. Major snowmaking improvements for this year. Mostly on Upper Dipper on the upper mtn this year. More likely to come for 2006/07. Things look peachy for snowmaking at Burke. Not sure what happened on Upper Warren’s this year, except to say there just wasn’t enough snow up there. Bummer, it’s my fave.

Thanks “Zoners”. I enjoyed it like last year. Keep your eye’s peeled on the Zone for Burke press releases. I’ll have more meaty information for you as the summer progresses.

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