Snowboard legend, Jake Burton lived to ride
Jake Burton loved to snowboard. In fact, he was so passionate about it that he wanted the entire world to snowboard with him. A simple vision, really, that launched a global industry and transformed the way we feel about powder.
Look up snowboarding in the dictionary and you’ll find one word that defines the sport: Burton. It’s a man. It’s a company. And it’s a way of life.
Jake Burton Carpenter, founder of Vermont-based Burton Snowboards, loved to board. His solution to many of the world’s ills, it seems, was to get people on snowboards, get the snowboards on snow and have some fun. By focusing his vision on building the sport, rather than simply peddling boards, Burton built one of the dopest lifestyle brands—and one of the most socially conscious outdoor companies around.
Burton on the back streets of Londonderry, Vermont where he first started producing snowboards in 1977.
The story of Burton is now legend. A Wall Street refugee, he retreated to Vermont in 1977 where the love of a strange snow contraption called a snurfer inspired him to push the evolution of the snowboard. While he didn’t actually invent the sport, his hand-shaped boards—sold out of the back of his station wagon—cornered the market. And Burton’s domination endures.
Burton, and his boards, single-handedly transformed a somewhat offbeat obsession into a global industry. Through it all, Burton, the man, and Burton, the company, set first tracks, pumping out trendsetting boards and pimping riders with the hottest swag.
Burton, and his boards, single-handedly transformed a somewhat offbeat obsession into a global industry.
The secret to the company’s success has always been its people. From Jake’s passion for the product to the Burton Global members, a tight-knit group of top pro boarders, and the company’s legion of board-savvy staff, Burton’s people have the on-mountain experience and know-how to set boarding trends. And this people-centric vision is at the heart of Burton’s social ethos.
If you were part of the early wave of snowboarding, there's a good chance your board was hand-shaped by Jake himself.
It starts with Burton employees and stretches far into the broader community. Burton practices a “Let my people go snowboarding” philosophy (a nod to Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard). The company offers employees free season passes, discounted lift tickets, a lending library of killer gear, flex time to score fresh powder after a dump and even cancels work if two feet or more fall on the Burlington office—so people can board, of course. Employees’ dogs are an important part of the culture and there’s a vert ramp out back for creative procrastination.
Each season, Burton's Chill Foundation kits out over 1,900 disadvantaged youth with gear, buses them to a local mountain and teaches them to board.
In 1995, Burton and his wife Donna Carpenter wanted to spread some of the on-snow fun to kids in the Burlington community who might not have the resources to try snowboarding. The Chill Foundation was born. Each season, it now kits out over 1,900 disadvantaged youth with gear, buses them to a local mountain and teaches them to board. Working with social service agencies, mental health agencies, foster care programs, juvenile justice programs, and schools in local communities, the program has reached more than 25,000 kids. Many have never left their cities, let alone stepped on a board. The outings improve self-esteem, attitude and resiliency. Proof that snowboarding can be good for anybody’s soul.
Aside from the Chill Foundation, you have to dig pretty deep to learn of Burton’s other good deeds. It says a lot about the man, and the company he founded. You won’t read about it on the company website or in their ads. It’s not a marketing ploy—it’s straight from the heart. Jake’s heart. And it was a big one. Burton lived by his motto: Ride. Inspire. Lead. May we follow respectfully in his tracks.
R.I.P. Jake Burton Carpenter 1954-2019