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Q Burke Gets Serious!

Upper Mountain Tech Trails

There’s a lot more to Burke, or Q Burke, as we should probably get used to calling it, than first impressions might lead you to believe. As a relatively new gravity bike park, and one where the chairlift does not take you very high up the mountain, you could be forgiven for thinking that there should be more. Well there is, and there’s even more to come beyond that!

The view from 'above' the peak - Willoughby Gap in the distance.

Burke Mountain is actually pretty big, and there’s a way to get to the top without having to pedal! The toll road runs up to the peak of the mountain at 3,262 feet, and will cost you $5 per trip on top of your lift pass. The cool thing is that you can shuttle it in your own truck, so you don’t necessarily have to wait for the Burke van to be ready. If you’re planning a number of laps on the upper mountain trails, consider getting the all day access pass for $15. And if you really must pedal up it then toll road access is free!

Looking down on the vehicle uplift.

And the trails up there are epic! If the lower mountain trails are smooth, the upper mountain trails are anything but! This is seriously technical mountain biking at it’s best. The recommendation is to start on Upper J Bar or the DH Trail, both double black diamond, technical gnar, packed with rocks, and steeper than everything you’ll find on the lower mountain. And then there is the Free Ride Trail, triple black, and easily the most demanding technical trail encountered so far on the East Coast Road Trip. In fact in some places it doesn’t even look like a trail, a rough impression of a path slicing through the rocks and trees as if trying to find the fastest route down the hill. There is the odd big feature – a rock drop at the top with a super small transition and even smaller run out to make it that extra daunting, and a big step-down double jump just near the bottom. Otherwise, it’s predominantly steep technical rocks and roots, and if it’s wet you can imagine how quickly things could go wrong if you’re not on the ball. The trail was difficult enough just to walk down it when it came time to shoot some pictures! Kory and Trey did the riding this time, and Mike and Matt joined us for the fun and games so huge thanks to them - Mike chipped in with some of the pictures as well.

Kory scopes the big rock drop at the top of the Free Ride trail.

And then he drops it cleanly.

Free Ride and the DH Trail will lead you down to a couple of other trail options, which all run to the campsite, so you’ll need to work your way back to the Burke base from there. Upper J Bar however runs neatly in to the J-Bar trail on the lower mountain, so you’ll get right back to where you need to be.

There's a trail in there somewhere I'm sure!

As for what more there is to come, Burke certainly has some grand plans. There’s already a brand new hotel in development – a $54 million project that’s part of an overall $108 million investment, with a target completion date of December 2015. Whilst the winter market is the driving factor it’s not being undertaken without thought to the bike park, and so the cost for rooms in the summer will not be prohibitive to mountain bikers – at least that’s the intention. It would be pointless to build facilities that don’t cater to this huge market, although it’s certainly happened elsewhere so only time will tell.

Take this warning seriously. Carrying your bike down the trail would suck!

Expansion of the upper mountain trails is a big part of the plan, and can be achieved incrementally as the vehicle uplift service is already in place. As trails and rider numbers on these trails increase, then more frequent or larger vehicle uplifts can be brought in to meet the demand. If it gets too much, there’s always another chairlift that runs to the peak. That’s a long way off but no harm in dreaming! And Burke has a history of success – in the form of the Burke Mountain Ski Academy – a breading ground for elite skiers with an alumni that includes the legendary master of flow Shane McConkey.

Trey follows Kory through a root section on Free Ride.

Currently the lifts operate on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, with opening times that differ each day so make sure you check. For example on Fridays it’s only open from 3pm to 7pm, so don’t show up in the morning first thing! Saturdays are 11-6 and Sundays 10-4, and the cost of the day pass varies to match the opening times, $15, $30, and $25 respectively.  There are a great couple of deals available to entice riders to make the trip. 2 for 1 on a Saturday is pretty sweet – as simple as buy one pass and get one free, so you and a mate go halves. And on top of that, if you’re heading up to ride for the weekend and buy a pass for the Saturday, then your pass for that Friday is free! With lifts running until 7 this works a treat for weekend warriors, and we arrived on the Friday evening to find a lift queue forming!

A rock slab on Free Ride where it starts to get steep!

The Norco Demo Center provides 18 Range models, 5 Aurums, and 3 Norco kids bikes – all brand new for 2014. But given the numbers, it’s highly advisable to book a bike in advance. Opening times are the same as the lift running times, and it’s a fairly limited shop, really intended for the rentals only so not carrying much sales stock. But a big reason for this must be the existence of East Burke Sports in the village which has a huge amount of everything, so you wont be stranded with a broken anything for very long! There are two types of lessons offered at the bike park; each 2 hours long and costing $99, including equipment and lift passes for the full day. The Gravity 101 is aimed at beginners and covers the basic fundamentals. And the Defy-Gravity Lesson is an intro to big jump trail riding on the Knightslayer trail.

More IPA at the Tamarack Pub and Grill at the lift base.

We finished at the Tamarack Pub and Grill at base of the lifts, for more Vermont IPA’s, nachos and a few rounds of darts. Regardless of whether the Q name sticks, this is certainly a bike park with a cool vibe and stacks of potential. Bike Park Manager Anthony Seibel - known as AJ - and the 4 full-time trail crew have lots of dirt available on the hill to build - not always a given at many of the very rocky locations in the North-East - so there are tons of options for building! There's big vertical available and an established mountain bike community in the form of Kingdom Trails. So it would appear that there really is much more to come...!

If you go down to the woods today beware of a big surprise...

One of the many rock-strewn sections of Free Ride. A seriously difficult trail!

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