Assuring the Long Term Viability of a Legacy Ski Area
For many years, the little ski area located in East Burke has turned out world-class skiers through the residential academic and training program at Burke Mountain Academy while providing year-round employment in the skiing and mountain biking industry to the tiny towns of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. From the steep pitch of the Training Hill to breathtaking views of the Presidential Range from the winding East Bowl trail to the challenging glades of The Jungle, the mountain is both widely known and locally cherished. But for all of the success of its World Cup-ready alumni and the love of the locals for a uniquely Vermont resort, the ski area itself has foundered financially, resulting in bankruptcy several times over its 60 year history.
In 2008, a noted international resort developer acquired the ski area with the intention of building a major year-round resort. The company needed assurance that high-end residential and commercial properties would retain their value beyond the life of any lending associated with the sale of its residential units. To do so, the company needed to extend a lease giving it the right to operate the ski area, located in the Darling State Forest. In Vermont, all transactions involving state-owned land require the blessing of the state legislature.
DRM’s real estate and environmental attorneys went to work on the master plan, submitting applications, expert testimony and impact studies associated with a major development. Meanwhile, the DRM Public and Government Affairs Group met with the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to outline the problem and develop a plan. Understanding the ski area’s importance to the state and the region, the commissioner agreed to include a provision allowing extension of the lease in the administration’s recommended capital spending bill, a document approved by the legislature each year which authorizes state government to conduct land and building transactions. As the bill moved through the legislature, DRM’s lobbying team appeared before relevant legislative committees, kept key legislators advised of its progress and worked with the commissioner to smooth the way. In May, the 2008 Capital Appropriations Act was passed, containing the provision. Shortly after, the lease was extended for a period of 50 years.
The economic slowdown of 2008 cast a chill over the second-home real estate market. The original development company, which had moved ahead with permitting and financing, put the project on hold pending recovery of the global economy. In 2013 Burke Mountain Resort was acquired by another local developer, which is now implementing aspects of the original master plan, confident that the ski area and associated real estate will retain its value well into the future. The little gem in the Northeast Kingdom lives on.