Don Graham Honored by BMA and Burke Mountain

Don Graham with son Ken and representatives from Burke Mountain, BMA, Leitner-Poma and U.S. Ski and Snowboard.
Kevin Mack, Michael Goldberg, Ken Graham, Don, Rick Spear, Tiger Shaw and Willy Booker

East Burke VT – January 26, 2019, Burke Mountain and Burke Mountain Academy (BMA) announced the naming of a ski trail and dedication of ski lift in honor of Don Graham in recognition of his innumerable contributions to Burke, BMA and the broader community over the past 50 years. The trail formerly known as “Lower Fox’s Folly” has been dedicated “Graham Slam” and the new Leitner-Poma T-Bar installed on Burke Mountain in the summer of 2017 has been dedicated “The D-Bar.”

At a reception at the Burke Mountain Hotel, Kevin Mack, Director of Resort Services, presented Mr. Graham with a commemorative Burke Mountain trail sign and Rick Spear, President of Leitner-Poma North America, unveiled a plaque that will be installed at the base loading area of the “D-Bar.” Also honoring Mr. Graham at the ceremony were Burke Mountain Receiver Michael Goldberg and Burke Mountain Academy Head of School Willy Booker.

Mr. Graham was drawn to the area when his oldest son, Steve, began attending school at Burke Mountain Academy and shortly after purchased a home in the area that he and his wife Ingrid have made their winter residence for close to 50 years. Over the years, all five of the Graham’s children attended BMA as well as four of their grandchildren.

Mr. Graham has been a long-standing supporter of Burke Mountain and BMA and has a 45-year history of philanthropy associated with both organizations. In 2000, he provided the money for BMA to buy the Mountain out of bankruptcy when it had been purchased at auction and was literally set to be shuttered – the ski resort closed, assets sold, and the Sherburne base lodge turned into a storage facility for a tent rental business.  The impact on BMA and the local community would have been devastating. Mr. Graham convinced the investor to instead sell the mountain that he had just bought to BMA. In addition to funding this purchase, Mr. Graham went on to quietly fund the mountain for five years to cover the operating losses and necessary capital improvements until a resort operator interested in buying the mountain could be found.  When the Ginn Company acquired Burke from BMA in 2005 in a deal largely brokered by Mr. Graham, in accordance with his wishes, no proceeds from the sale returned to him or the Graham family.  Instead, the entirety of the proceeds went to BMA which established the core of the school’s current endowment and financial security.  Motivated by his care for both the school and the local community, Mr. Graham considered a new lease on life for the mountain a gift to the school and the Burke community.

Mr. Graham’s drive to ensure Burke Mountain’s success goes well beyond the one purchase and sale between 2000 and 2005. When the Ginn Company ownership began to falter, Mr. Graham leveraged his personal contacts at the Leitner-Poma ski lift manufacturer to procure the Mid Burke Express at advantaged price and terms – and personally provided financing for half the chair, though he had no ownership in the mountain. It was his belief that an investment focused on enhanced ski experience was the best way to help Burke Mountain remain a viable resort.

When the Q ownership arrived, Mr. Graham suggested that BMA ought to start the relationship off on a positive footing with a declaration as good faith partners. School leadership and Mr.Graham conceived of the notion for BMA to offer to fund over $400,000 (the majority made possible via a gift by Don Graham) of snowmaking to help the new ownership keep on an accelerated improvement plan and start its ownership tenure with vastly improved capacity to make snow. This was undertaken within three months of the Q Burke ownerships arrival.

In 2017, Mr. Graham worked closely with Michael Goldberg, the SEC appointed Receiver who manages the Mountain and its operations today, to secure a much-needed replacement for the WWII era Poma lift that served BMA’s training venue on Burke Mountain. While it is exceedingly rare for properties held in receivership to secure investments that improve the value of the held asset, Mr. Graham again defied the odds in negotiating a deal that would trade a long-standing obligation from the Mountain to BMA to finance the majority of the purchase and installation of a state of the art Leitner-Poma “T-Bar” that will service BMA’s training needs and support public skiing on Burke Mountain for years to come.

Notably, through all of his efforts to support the mountain or the school, Mr. Graham never advertised his efforts preferring to remain behind the scenes asking that those involved respect his wishes for privacy and anonymity. At 86 years old, Mr. Graham can still be found skiing on Burke Mountain and enjoying the company of his friends. In his many years of association with BMA he has served as Trustee, Board Chair, and mentor to all 5 Headmasters. He and his wife Ingrid have opened up their hearth and home to countless people over the years. The Burke community has benefited greatly from their kindness, generosity and giving spirit. Today, Burke Mountain and BMA paid respect by making a permanent recognition of the legacy of selfless service to the Burke Community.

Don with former BMA Headmasters Kirk Dwyer and Finn Gundersen and BMA’s current Head of School Willy Booker


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