Want to ride 120 miles of buff singletrack, a lift-access bike park, catch shuttle runs of thousands of vertical feet… and stay on the East Coast? Rob Rebholz and Joey B headed up to Northeast Vermont to check out the fabled Kingdom Trails and Burke Mountain Resort.
Being from New York, Vermont is like your cool cousin that you only see a couple of times a year- but always have a great time with. I live in Buffalo and it is a solid eight hours of trucking for me to reach the Green Mountain State. Every time I go I always have a blast shredding the awesome all-mountain and gravity spots tucked in among the maple syrup distilleries and dairy farms.
A few years back I was at a jump jam at Highland Mountain and I met a talented rider from Northeast Kingdom area of Vermont named Knight Ide. Knight is from East Burke and he told me about the awesome trail riding near him called the Kingdom Trails. He also invited me to check out the new gravity park at Burke Mountain that he and Kyle Ebbett were working on.
I had meant to get up and visit him the last few summers, but the ten-hour drive to his neck of the woods and my hectic schedule left the Kingdom Trails at the top of my ‘to ride list’. This past summer I made a deal with myself to explore more of the East Coast riding that I had been sleeping on. After four days of 2,000-foot shuttle descents, endless laps in the buttery Burke bike park and exploring the stunning Darling Hill area, I couldn’t stop kicking myself for waiting so long to get up to the Kingdom.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me give you a quick history lesson on how all of this awesomeness came to be. The Kingdom Trails Association is a non-profit organization that stewards the trails in East Burke. Kingdom Trails got started by local mountain biking godfather John Worth over 20 years ago in an effort to legalize the growing trail system that he and his friends had created.
“By 1993 we had a decent network connecting the logging roads all over Darling Hill and Burke Mountain,” John explained when I visited his shop, East Burke Sports. “All of the trails were on private land and only half were legal- I was worried that we were going to get shut down.”
John enlisted the help of the former owner of Burke Mountain, Doug Kitchel, to garner support among landowners to open their properties up to mountain biking. “Doug really threw his influence behind our project,” John said candidly. “He went door to door to all of the major landowners to explain the economic benefits that mountain biking could bring to our community.”
In return for their support, the first board of directors of the Kingdom Trails was stacked with some of the biggest landowners in the area. A lawyer and bookkeeper came aboard and donated their time to help the Kingdom Trails get their non-profit 501(c)(3) status. This was a crucial step in the development of the Kingdom Trails because this designation gave the organization tax-exempt status. In short, it allowed them to dump all of the money earned from map sales, usage fees and membership back into the trail system.
Working with the local forest service, Kingdom Trails got approval to use state land to build trails. The area known as Darling Hill was the first area they developed, mainly because of its close proximity to town and how easy the soil was to work with. “Darling Hill is an esker, or shore of an ancient glacial lake,” John explained as we rode past a large dairy farm to the trailhead. “The sand was deposited there over thousands of years. You will literally go all day without seeing a rock up there when cutting trails.”
John took us on an epic ride on Darling Hill and I can personally attest to the buttery smoothness of the expansive network. The trails are pure flow country- leave your hands off of the brakes and pump through the endlessly linked berms. The rollercoaster-inspired Sidewinder trail and the scenic River Run trail left me wishing that I had a few more days in the Kingdom.
When we headed back to town we swung by the Kingdom Trails Welcome Center and linked up with trail manager CJ Scott. CJ showed us what we had ridden with John on the trail map and showed us his favorite rides from the summit of Burke Mountain. As CJ showed us more and more routes I realized that it would certainly take more than our abbreviated stay to scratch the surface of the 120-miles of singletrack that Kingdom Trails has built.
CJ explained to us that the Kingdom Trails sees over 60,000 visitors a year and those numbers are growing at a rate of 10-20% each year. The Welcome Center makes it easy for people to get dialed for their ride. Swing by and pick up your trail passes, maps and get any questions answered by the friendly staff. With three full-time and nine part-time employees, Kingdom Trails does an awesome job of making sure your riding experience is top notch while in East Burke.
The first class condo we stayed at with was right in the heart of the bike park at Burke Mountain, so literally we woke up to the sound of free hubs spinning in the air. As I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I took in the awesome view from the Bear Path Townhome and watched as rider after rider hit the jumps on Knight Slayer. I knew that it was going to be a good day.
The plan was to hook up with Knight to ride the bike park and possibly shred some shuttle runs later in the day. Knight met us at the lift and gave us the low down on how the gravity scene got started at Burke. “I’m a stone mason and timber framer by trade,” Knight explained as the chair meandered up the mountain. “When freeride started happening it was my natural compulsion to grab my tools and build something.”
Knight explained that the first trail he built, the Freeride Trail, was made by following a moose track off the summit of Burke with a weedwacker and a chainsaw. As bike parks began popping up on the East Coast in the mid 2000’s, Burke Mountain showed an interest in building a park. They approached Knight to build a few trails and he brought in Kyle Ebbett to help him with the project.
“This is ‘Knight Slayer’, the first trail Ebbett and I built for Burke Mountain,” Knight explained as he pedaled into the first big step-down of the expert jump trail. It was easy to get confidence to boost the lippy jumps by watching Knight float them like it was nothing. When we got to the bottom, Knight filled us in that basically after he built a few trails at Burke, Kingdom Trails stepped in to help build more.
The partnership of the Kingdom Trails Association and new owner of Burke Mountain, Ary Quiros, is already beginning to bear fruit. Last year, Kingdom Trails applied for and won the Bell Built grant. The grant is a technical assistance grant sponsored by Bell Helmets to have IMBA Trail Solutions build a trail in the bike park. I was lucky enough to be one of the first to sample the work of legendary rider and trail builder Randy Spangler.
Randy had just finished edging up one of his signature flat-topped berms on the new trail he was building when we ran into him. I hadn’t seen Randy in a few years and he filled me in that he was now IMBA’s go to builder for gravity courses, dirt jumps and pump tracks. The Bell Built Grant that the Kingdom Trails won was for a flow trail, so Randy came out with a small crew and built a beginner flow trail that runs top to bottom at Burke.
“The big goal for the flow trail at Burke was to make it fun for the little shredders,” Randy said while stopping to wipe sweat and dirt from his brow. “But we made sure that these berms will put a smile on anyone’s face.”
Randy took a break to ride the new flow trail aptly named ‘Roly Grail’ with us. It was great to shred his creation with him and feel his craftsmanship first hand as we railed berm after linked berm. “The building went really fast because the dirt is so awesome here and we got rain right when we needed it,” Randy said as we stopped mid-mountain to check out a secret transfer line he’d built. “We were able to add a whole extra lower section because the work went so quickly.”
After checking out all of the trails in the bike park, Knight suggested we take a few shuttle laps on the upper mountain before sundown. We piled twelve bikes and riders into Knight’s oversized dumptruck and headed up the toll road to the top of the mountain. I sat shotgun and Knight explained the options we had from the top.
"There are three trails that go from the top of the mountain, the Freeride Trail, the DH Trail and Upper J-Bar. The Freeride Trail is pretty much old school gnar that goes straight down the fall line of the mountain and has mandatory gaps and drops,” Knight explained as the sun sat low on the horizon. We already had a full day of riding, so we opted against riding the 'hain' and decided to ride the more mellow Upper J-Bar.
Like the lower section that runs through the bike park, Upper J-Bar is an absolute blast to ride. The amount of stonework that has been put into that trail is mind blowing. It seems like every single rock has been placed in the perfect spot to keep flow going through the rough chunder. It was awesome following Randy, Knight and the rest of the East Burke crew and watching them shred everything in their path.
After J-Bar we did another lap from the top of the Downhill Trail. There were tons of wicked natural rock rollers and some nice steep sections. After the steep bit at the top we got into a really nice bit of flow country on Dead Moose Alley and Camptown.
Our car was at the Welcome Center, so we were able to jam one more trail in before we had to set sail. Burnham Down connects Burke Mountain to the center of East Burke and features more woodwork than any trail outside of North Vancouver. The area is a massive marshland, so the wood bridges are as functional as they are fun!
As we loaded the bikes on the truck and said goodbye, the sun was finally setting behind Darling Hill. I stopped for a moment to appreciate how much work Kingdom Trails, Burke Mountain and local riders had put in to create this thin slice of heaven. We hadn't even left and I was already planning my next visit to Burke.
Thanks again to John Worth and CJ Scott of the Kingdom Trails Association as well as Ary Quiros, AJ Seibel and Tom Leyman of Burke Mountain for making our stay a memorable one. Thanks also to Knight Ide and Jennifer Ide for being amazing hosts. I also want to give heartfelt thanks to Jack Dator of Bear Path Townhomes for showing us what truly first class accommodation feels like. Big thanks to all of the riders that took their time to shoot with us, including Day Ide, Leif Trott, Randy Spangler and all of the locals who made us feel at home.
I'd also like to thank all of the folks that allow me to share these experiences. Thanks to Hans Heim and Jeff Kendall-Weed at Ibis Cycles, Scott Boyd at the Hayes Group, David Parrett at Thomson, Mark Jordan at Fox, Karl Wiedemann at Thule, Willie Ford at POC USA, Erik Hauge at Dakine, Jeff Wilbur at Cateye and Jeremiah Stitch at Bert’s Bikes and Fitness.
Check out Skiburke.com, Kingdomtrails.com, Eastburkesports.com and Bearpathtownhomes.com to make your stay in East Burke an awesome one. Also be sure to watch for the dates for the world famous NEMBAfest at the Kingdom Trails as well as the Eastern Enduro Series Burke Mountain race.