announced November 10, 2018
From the Caledonian Record...
by Amy Ash Nixon
BURKE — Burke Mountain Resort is proposing to build a 30 million-gallon pond in East Burke to support its expanding snowmaking efforts this season.
Kevin Mack, general manager of Burke, on Monday evening presented those plans to the Burke Select Board at its monthly meeting, and asked the board to be the applicant for a $1 million Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for the project, for which Burke Racing, a nonprofit arm of the Burke Mountain Academy, will serve as the sub-applicant. The grant must be associated with a nonprofit.
He said the project will make use of funds through the federal receivership available to Burke Mountain, and will also use other grant dollars being sought for the improvements. The CDBG grant requires a 1:1 match, which would come from the federal receivership funds, Mack told the board.
Mack explained that having such a huge increase in pond capacity will transform the resort’s snowmaking operations, and allow it to open earlier in November and remain open later in April.
The Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) will assist with the CDBG process.
Mack said the pond will be 500 x 400 feet, and 22-feet deep. The resort’s pond for snowmaking now is 2.5 million gallons, so the capacity expansion is significant. The pond will be on Route 114.
Having such a significant pond will mean the resort will “not have to respond to the vagaries of the river; this will provide some pushback on that (and will allow) more trails to be opened to snowmaking, and will make us more competitive.”
Burke gets an average of 168 inches of snowfall in a winter season, but having the capability to consistently make a lot of snow for many more trails will make the resort more competitive than it ever has been, he explained. “This would be fairly profound for a resort of our size.”
Willy Booker, Head of School for Burke Mountain Academy, said the mountain’s success is intertwined with the school’s success. “We know how big of an impact this will have,” Booker said. “We’re willing to be at risk and have some skin in the game to help facilitate this.”
The consistency of strong skiing at Burke Mountain will have a positive ripple effect on all the businesses in Burke, said Mack. “We’re very excited.”
The selectboard, Chair Joe Allard, Darryel Corrow and Christine Emmons, quickly and unanimously put their support behind the request to have the town be the applicant for the CDBG.
“It’s a good idea,” said Corrow.
Emmons added, “It will be nice to have a little more stability for everyone.”
Speaking At Rotary
Earlier in the day, Mack spoke at the St. Johnsbury Rotary Club’s meeting at Union Baptist Church in Waterford, where he shared some of the mountain’s history through its 2-plus years of being under federal receivership to its present – which is all about growing the resort’s 4-season business and providing an experience guests will return for and tell others about.
The resort went into federal receivership in April 2016 when the Securities and Exchange Commission seized the resort, as well as Jay Peak Resort, both formerly owned by Ariel Quiros, who recently settled with both the federal and state government after being accused of misappropriating more than $200 million of immigrant investor funds and having allegedly stolen another $50 million plus.
Under the federally-appointed receiver, Michael Goldberg, the two ski properties have continued to operate and important investments have been made. Goldberg had the vision to not shutter the new, and not-yet-opened 116-room hotel and conference center at Burke, and with staff on the ground there, helped it to open 4-½ months after the scandal had broken.
Mack credited Goldberg with moving ahead to complete and open the hotel Sept. 1, 2016, saying he understood that “a shuttered hotel would not scream opportunity … it would scream a shuttered hotel.”
In a little more than two years, the hotel has steadily seen its clientele base grow, and in concert with the highly successful mountain biking mecca Burke has become thanks to the Kingdom Trails Association, many visitors are staying at the hotel in the other three seasons, helping fulfill the hope that Burke could ultimately become a 4-season destination.
To that end, Mack told the Rotarians, “The hotel has been a game changer.”
Mack said the history of Burke Mountain as a ski resort dates to about 1954, when 13 men “looked at Burke Mountain and thought that would be a great place to have a ski resort.”
At the resort, there is a room called The First Thirteen, said Mack, who said many people assume that is a nod to the 13 colonies, when in fact it is a nod to the men who helped to forge ahead with their dream to create a ski mountain at Burke, a property which has a long history with the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.
“Since 1954, the resort has had many owners,” said Mack. Burke “has endeared itself to locals,” for generations, and also has “visitors from near and far.”
With the advent of Burke Mountain Academy, a partner of Burke Mountain that has produced dozens of Olympians and added caché to the ski mountain, Mack said Burke essentially “outpunches its height.”
As for the future of Burke, Mack reported it is bright.
With the new hotel, the resort is welcoming more than 100,000 visitors annually, said Mack. He encouraged those at the Rotary meeting to come visit East Burke to see the activity generated by mountain biking. He said they will hear French being spoken, as many visitors who mountain bike are coming to the area from Quebec.
Mack told those in attendance about how the resort runs the hotel and conference center, six bars and restaurants, operates a water and wastewater plant and has more than 200 customers on its utility, besides the resort, and operates the largest leach field in Vermont. But when visitors come to Burke, they don’t see any of the behind-the-scenes work happening to orchestrate a seamless experience, said Mack.
The mountain has 39 miles of downhill trails and 15 km of Nordic trails. “This time of year, it’s all about making that snow,” said Mack. He said he’ll start getting calls from people soon now that it’s early November, asking when they can hit the slopes.
Although to locals the hotel may seem big, to many visitors, it feels quite small and welcoming, said Mack. “For many of our guests it’s like a homey cottage, ironically enough.”
This time of year, the hotel amps up from a staff of about 70 to more than 300, said Mack. That there is growing year-round business means more employees can have employment year-round, and grow into career positions.
“We expect to see substantial growth in this coming year,” said Mack. He said while Burke is growing and drawing more visitors, it still has more places where skiers can feel alone and off in “little pockets” as they come down the mountain, than at most resorts, which adds to its appeal.
The resort has continued under receivership to invest in snowmaking and lift upgrades and will be doing more with the project described Monday night at the Burke Select Board, said Mack.