Business & Economy

Burke resort cuts ties with mountain biking trails network

A disagreement over fee-sharing has halted a three-year relationship between Q Burke Mountain ski resort and a local mountain biking trail network.

The resort and the nonprofit Kingdom Trails had partnered since 2010 to provide chairlift access to summer mountain bike trails.

The program was an extension of Kingdom Trails’ award-winning, multi-use trail system that established East Burke as a year-round destination for outdoor recreation. It’s a brand identity Q Burke is incorporating into its own business plans.

Q Burke CEO Ary Quiros plans to operate the ski resort's summer mountain bike paths independent of local nonprofit Kingdom Trails. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger.
Q Burke CEO Ary Quiros plans to operate the ski resort’s summer mountain bike paths independent of local nonprofit Kingdom Trails. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger.

Q Burke CEO Ary Quiros intends to continue operations independently in June 2014, when the slopes would normally reopen to bikes.

Kingdom Trails will continue to operate its network of biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails in and around East Burke. Executive director Tim Tierney said he’s “forever hopeful” the organization will return to the mountain to help manage and build out the bike park.

“If he doesn’t see our strength, we don’t know how we can convince him otherwise,” Tierney said. “And if not, it will just be the new reality.”

The dispute between the former partners surfaced when Quiros, who took over Q Burke management in January, revisited the Kingdom Trails contract as part of his broader housekeeping efforts at the struggling resort.

The arrangement through summer 2013 had been negotiated with prior Burke Mountain manager Tim McGuire, who stepped down in August. According to the Kingdom Trails website, McGuire holds a seat on the organization’s board of directors.

In the partnership, Q Burke handled monetary transactions on behalf of the resort and Kingdom Trails: Q Burke collected $20 for the chairlift and $15 for a “day membership” to Kingdom Trails. No daily trail fee was charged to those with annual Kingdom Trails membership.

Tierney said the trail fee is charged for access to any of the organization’s trail networks, and helps cover Kingdom Trail’s expenses for maintenance, management and insurance.

Quiros originally refused to pay roughly $20,000 to the organization according to the contract, which he said he had not been aware of at the time it was signed. He later agreed to the payment but canceled the partnership going forward.

Quiros said $20 was not enough to cover the resort’s costs of operating the chairlift and participating in the program.

“They told us to just suck it up,” Quiros said. “But if they want to be on the mountain, they should charge $15 on top of the $35.”

He acknowledged, however, that such a price point would put Q Burke out of a market that offers cheaper options nearby.

“At the end of the day, they’re the landowner,” Tierney said.

Kingdom Trails describes its entire network as being built on the generosity of private property owners willing to share access to their land. For that reason, Tierney said, Kingdom Trails can’t afford to set a precedent of allowing a landowner to charge a commission on its membership fees.

“We knew all along how unique it was — a for-profit resort dealing with a nonprofit,” Tierney said.

He underscored that as long as people continue to travel to East Burke for recreation, his organization’s mission will succeed.

“We just want to keep it seamless for people who come here and think of it as Kingdom Trails,” Tierney said.

Quiros said he would return to the negotiating table with Kingdom Trails under the right circumstances.

“I will work with anybody and everybody in the community when they’re fair,” Quiros said.

He added that he would like to co-market with Kingdom Trails, and that he’d consider waiving rental fees if the organization wants to hold events on the mountain.

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Hilary Niles

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  • Bob Taylor

    Ms. Niles, during your investigation for this story, I’m curious, did you determine who paid for the buildout and operation of the lift-served trails?

    These are not your average mountain bike trails. They involved earth moving equipment, stunt and heavy-duty bridge construction, and manual labor beyond that used to build and maintain the other trails in the network. There was significant capital investment. Whose capital was that? Additionally there was full time staffing by lift attendants, a network of first responders due to the inevitable crashes, and ongoing maintenance to the stunts. Every rain storm must have required staff with trail/stunt building expertise to repair/maintain them. Who paid those folks’ wages?

    Mr. Quiros implied with his fairness statement that there was a financially inequitable arrangement, but the article only then goes onto describe the income side of that arrangement. Who bore the costs?

    Bob Taylor
    Newbury, VT

    • Steve Joyce

      Not to mention, the whle Bell Helmets grant of a trail built on their dime by KT rallying enough nationwide support to win the contest vs. a number of other trail networks in the US. That trail was then built as part of the bike park………100% driven by KT and KT supporters. I didn’t see any Q support or Q management with shovels on that one…….I’m guessing building that trail out would have cost greater than the infamous $20K Q jr owed KTA per their contract.

      Ary, you listening? Time to rally your marquetting team and rethinq this……

    • Kevin Callahan

      All trails on the mountain were built by KTA; costs for those were born by KTA, and the labor was provided by KTA trail crews. I’m not aware that Burke Mountain has or had their own bike patrol unit; KTA has a full time patrol that responds to medical and mechanical issues, as well as answering questions and being front-line ambassadors.

      Gravity flow trails of this nature cost around $20-$30K to design and install; most of that is excavator hours.

      While I don’t know any of the details or numbers surrounding this, as an active trail builder and MTB advocate in the Midcoast of Maine we’ve been in conversation with KTA for a few years now. This contract development is of major interest as it clearly shows just how quickly an arrangement can unravel. Hoping that the resort management can figure out a pricing structure that covers their costs and keeps the lift spinning for a reasonable fee. It will be interesting to see what happens to the trails after a season of use when KTA crews aren’t there to put them back together :/

  • It looks like the senior Queros has sent his son to Burke to end Burke Mountain once and for all. As we watch him work, he seems to be intentionally alienating Burke from the surrounding community. Every decision that he has made, from the new logo, to the relationship with Kingdom Trails, to forcing the CircumBurke race to be held elsewhere, seems to be driven by something other than wanting Burke to succeed. Either he is not very good at what he does, or he is intentionally doing damage. If it is the later, he is very good at what he does.

    • Sherry Noyes

      I believe the intent from the beginning has been to have Burke Mt. fail so everyone would have to go to Jay & it would succeed. Jay continues to build(climbing walls & theater etc) but no groundbreakings at Burke. Hopefully they will take their Qbear and go back, maybe to QJay!

  • Phyllis North

    Not hearing good things about the management of Burke by the younger Mr. Quiros. It was nice of his dad to give him a job, though. I wonder what Bill Stanger thinks about how things are going at Burke.

  • Cathi Feeley

    Is Ary short for Arrogant?

    Why not just rename the Mountain
    “Quiros’s Burke Mountain Resort” and get it over with. I love the way the family is working with the locals and putting money in the local economy.

  • Sherry Stahler

    It is a sad day indeed for our beautiful corner of the kingdom when something such as this happens. As Vermonters, our uniqueness comes from trusting, sharing and working TOGETHER. Kingdom Trails has done more for East Burke and the surrounding area than Q-Burke will ever do.

    • Diane James

      Yes to see local employees lose their jobs at Burke.. Sad! maybe it was because they didn’t have green cards?

  • Bill Gardyne

    Burke Mountain is a private business that has bankrupted its last several owners spanning several decades. Obviously, it needs new ideas and revenue sources to become viable and hopefully move beyond a seasonal ski mountain. Change comes hard for many people, me included. However, I think the locals and the armchair internet business experts need to give the Q’s a chance to make a difference, try new things and hopefully becomes successful at Burke Mountain. If they hadn’t came along and bought it where do think Burke would have ended up in couple more years of non-investment and deferred maintenance….liquidation is my opinion.

  • Rita Pitkin

    A shining example of the much-touted economic development project(s) in the NEK brought here by Stegner, Quiros, etc. and the EB5 program. I hope this will be the last of the lack of support for what the NEK already does We really don’t need the bulldozer mentality.

  • Dan Flanagan

    One more reminder that resort owners come and go . There always be another sucker that thinks they can polish that turd of a mountain differently than the last owner. Thankfully the success of Kingdom Trails never has and never will depend on the success of the Mountain.

  • Vivian Buckley

    Why is KT not operating nordic at Dashney ? Because Q wants a cut of that. What does it cost Q for KT to pay KT employees, use KT equipment, and enlist KT employees and volunteers to maintain the trails? Sure Q pays taxes on the land, but so does every one of the over 55 landowners who participate in KT to support the mission to “provide recreation and education opportunities for local residents and visitors while working to conserve natural resources and create economic stimulation.” Thank goodness the folks on Darling Hill know a good thing when they see it. We’re still enjoying nordic skiing,snowshoeing and fat biking without the Q. But I guess the loss of nordic at Dashney is just one of the things Q meant when he said to Gina Bullard on WCAX that he needed to take something away from the community…to give something back?

    • Steve Joyce

      Well said. For years we have enjoyed the nordic at Dashney, supported the Tamarack after every visit to see Roger et al for lunch and drinks, and now I would rather support the locals we know in town vs. Q.

      KTA and their unique and respctful model has put some econmic life back into the NEK without the bulk of the unwanted development etc. KTA and the visitors they bring have made Burke even remotely attractive to be purchased in the first place. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth.

      While the decisions made by Q might make sense in a pure business school case study, this isn’t an academic exercise, sometimes the “right” decisions don’t necessarily make short term financial sense. Sure they may be able to make the proforma look a little better on their spreadsheets, but long term do these decisions and the alienation of the local community really make sense? Is the juice worth the Squeeze Ary?

  • Dustin Miller

    Another power hungry kid whose absent-minded father let go of the leash. This is a huge disappointment, and I hope the flood of negative press for Mr. Quiros Jr. reaches a Facebook fever pitch like all of the other irritating injustices in the bike world lately.

  • Michael Stahler

    I’m a lifelong Burkie. I’ve seen the good and the bad. When I heard that “Jay Peak” was buying Burke last year, I was so excited because Bill Stenger has done so much good and is a leader in the industry. He was on WCAX talking about what they were going to do and he was onsite.

    And then slowly reality set in for me. I watched some very good managers fired for money. Some of those folks have been in the industry about as long as you can be.

    And then I saw my mountain “renamed” “Q-Burke” as a “tribute” to the him and his family according to Mr. Quiros on WCAX. This is silly if not completely arrogant for a resort that has been in existence for 60 years and has a ski history that goes back to the 1930’s. The resort, by the way, has always had the name of the town and the mountain on which it sits. Does this mean that world-famous BMA is now QBMA?

    And now this. And at the beginning of ski season and during the holidays. He just was so eager to tell his story that he smiles for VTDigger’s camera. I’ve never seen someone so arrogant and shortsighted.

    Burke has always been about the community. I meet my friends and family there. Everyone knows everyone. But QBurke is about the things that can go wrong with the industry–one only need look at Ascutney to see what happens when an owner makes the place about himself instead of the skiing and the community.

    KT did not deserve this. They are the goose that laid the golden egg for Burke Mountain. And no, Mr. Quiros, you will not succeed alone. Next summer, as you charge $50 for lift-served biking, you will have the place to yourself.

    Earlier this fall, WCAX did a four-part series on Stenger’s NEK projects. I was so happy to see that one would be devoted to Burke Mountain. I got ready to watch from afar online, sat down with a cup of coffee, and got ready to hear how my home mountain would be on the path to sustainability. Instead, I got a 10-minute biographical sketch of Mr. Quiros, Jr., who is pretty much my age, and his personal views of himself and life. There was no talk of the ski area; no talk of how things would be better (except for mention of the hotel that is EXACTLY like the one at Jay); an admission that he never worked in the ski industry and was an “intern” once at a hotel; it was the Ary Jr. show and I was so disgusted. His final words was that he would not fail. My home mountain is not a “pet project” for someone to build a resume or his ego.

    As far as I’m concerned, he can do it without my money and my friend’s money. There are a lot of resorts out there who listen to their guests and do a good job. Burke is no longer one of them I’m afraid.

    We gave him a chance, but he clearly does not care what the community thinks. Sorry, I might be harsh, but it’s the truth.

    • Andy Howard

      Well put Michael. I also grew up in the area and share your sentiments exactly. I think there are a lot of us in “the middle” who had high hopes and were willing to give the new guy the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately allowing the relationship with KT to sour is wrong in so many ways that I can’t help to question his judgment and leadership ability. I fear that he is not only sullying his family’s reputation, but also that of any new developer who wants to come to the NEK and get the benefit of the doubt.

  • Jerry Webber

    As a longtime patron and supporter of BURKE Mountain Ski area. Despite the ups and downs of the businesses that have come and gone, BURKE Mountain is a wonderful beautiful place for all seasons. With the introduction of Mssrs. Queros and Stenger, a great number of BURKE Mountain patrons, along with the broader local communities, immediately became appreciative and supported the notion that BURKE Mountain is in good hands. As with any business, change is inevitable for growth, finances, and improvements. Unfortunately what is becoming a troubling trend is the types of changes. From the moment BURKE Mountain became “QBurke”, most everyone had a gut feeling the younger Mssr. Queros was leading our beloved BURKE Mountain downhill (pun intended).

    Creating the QBurke Corporation / company is fine – but to change the name of the well-respected BURKE Mountain is nothing short of bold arrogance. Albeit equally failing to note that successful ski areas do not change the name of the resort i.e. “QStowe”, “QVail”, QJay”, QTelluride”, “QMad Rive Glen”. The underlying owners / corporations do not flaunt themselves; it is far more professional and subtle. I am embarrassed for Mssrs. Queros.

    I will withhold my judgments on the Kingdom Trails / QBurke negotiations, except to say collectively the two entities are far better situated to draw year round tourism to the area. Frankly, after the debacle of renaming of the mountain, I am not optimistic that QBurke will achieve its mission statement goals. Until the young Mr. Queros understands and appreciates (formerly known) BURKE Mountain, he will continue with a failed plan. For all of us, Mssr. Queros might do well to dial in the ego and concentrate on what matters. Or risk the humiliation that he will be the recipient of being fired or CEO of a failed ski mountain, formally known as “QBurke”.

  • Ian Dowling

    Follow -up story with Lt. Q. Hulka:
    Reporter: Shall I address you as Q., or Lt. Hulka?
    Lt. Hulka: You may address me as ‘Sir’.
    Reporter: Sir, will you still allow use of the KTA cross country mtb trails that are on Q. Burke property?
    Lt. Hulka: No
    Reporter: How will you prevent riders from using already established and world famous trails?
    Lt. Hulka: We are currently in the process of building a 200 ft wall around the entire Q. Burke property. There will be several entry points, and each will be protected by 1000 armed guards.
    Reporter: How will anyone get into the Q. Burke property?
    Lt. Hulka: We will allow current holders of EB5 certificates, and everyone else will be charged a fee.
    Reporter: What kind of fee?
    Lt. Hulka: We went around and around on this. I wanted to charge a kabillion dollars but my father told me I could only charge a zillion dollars.
    Reporter: Do you think that will hurt the relationship between the community and the mountain.
    Lt. Hulka: I don’t care.

    Please visit the Facebook site, ‘Keep KTA whole’.

  • Ian Dowling

    Cont interview with Lt. Q. Hulka

    Reporter: Sir, the hospitality industry is based on fun and happiness. It appears that your business model removes those elements from Burke Mt.
    Lt. Q. Hulka: Here are Q. Burke we don’t like to use those terms. We are laser focused on discipline and order.
    Reporter: But won’t that reduce the attractiveness of Burke to good people with lots of money to spend?
    Lt. Q. Hulka: Yes, probably.
    Reporter: Then how will you make any money and continue with the expansion plans that you have?
    Lt Q. Hulka: We probably won’t make any money but Dad told me not to worry about it.
    Reporter: Really, then what does Mr. Stenger think about that?
    Lt. Q. Hulka: Who?

  • Some interesting news. The management at the mountain has gained national notoriety for their lack of marketing expertise.