In high school in the late 80s, my friends and I were part of the snowboarding revolution that Jake Burton was pioneering. I remember in my ski club taking a van full of skis, snowboards, and classmates to Canada. A 10-to-12-hour slog from Marion, MA to Quebec, a brutal drive.
But it was all worth it once we were snowboarding from morning to late afternoon for the long weekend. It was such a great feeling because while most were skiing—we were snowboarding. It just wasn’t that common to see a lot of snowboarders at the time.
Those were special memories from high school. Snowboarding on those trips we felt like we were part of something new that was sweeping through the sport. That will always be an incredible memory for me.
Last week, Jake Burton Carpenter, the snowboarding pioneer, passed away.
The Wall Street Journal wrote of Jake’s impact on the sport of snowboarding:
Jake Burton Carpenter went to college as an aspiring ski racer but could never shake his teenage obsession with a $10 monoski called the Snurfer. He believed at an early age that the board, which allowed people to surf snow, could be a sport and big business.
Mr. Carpenter was proved right as snowboarding now accounts for a quarter of nearly 60 million annual visits to U.S. ski resorts, according to industry data, and is an Olympic sport that has produced global stars like Shaun White. Mr. Carpenter died Wednesday of complications related to cancer at age 65.
Mr. Carpenter was working as a New York investment banker when he started making his first snowboards in his Upper East Side apartment. In 1977, he moved to Vermont and started Burton Boards.
The boards didn’t sell well at first. Initial versions were made of solid wood. They featured a pointed nose and fins. Ski resorts didn’t allow them.
Mr. Carpenter said he once loaded 38 of his handcrafted snowboards in a Volvo to sell across the state of New York and returned at the end of the day with 40 of them. A retailer he had visited previously gave him two boards back, saying the product was a joke.
“Nobody wanted any part of it,” Mr. Carpenter told National Public Radio in 2017.
Mr. Carpenter worked to improve the design, layering woods like ash into what is known as a laminate that created more durable and flexible boards for a smoother ride. He also added metal edges that made the product more suitable for hard-packed snow and groomed slopes at ski resorts.
In 1983, he persuaded Stratton Mountain to start allowing snowboarders by offering to certify the riders. Other resorts followed.
“After quickly going in the hole, I realized that what was more important was to get the sport off the ground,” Mr. Carpenter told The Wall Street Journal in 1996. “I had to show all those people laughing at me that it wasn’t such a stupid thing after all.”
The ski industry’s initial opposition to the sport, which was banned for years at many resorts, gave it an antiestablishment appeal that encouraged young winter-sports enthusiasts to embrace snowboarding as a fun and rebellious alternative to skiing.
There are now nearly 8 million snowboarders in the U.S. and about one in every three ride a Burton board, according to industry data. Many credit Mr. Carpenter’s salesmanship and perseverance for turning snowboarding into a global phenomenon.
Thank you, Jake.
Below, find a timeline of Jake’s life from Burton.com:
Jake Burton Carpenter, 1954 – 2019
Burton founder Jake Burton Carpenter passed away peacefully on November 20, 2019 as a result of complications from recurring cancer. He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much.
A few months prior, Jake started to compile a timeline of the most important events of his life in his own words. We’ve shared it here.
JAKE BURTON: PERSONAL TIMELINE
APRIL 29, 1954
Born in New York, New York, the youngest of four siblings.
Went skiing for the first time with my family at Bromley Mountain in Vermont and was hooked on snow and the mountains.
FEBRUARY 17, 1967
Attended Brooks School in North Andover, Mass. This is the same school as my brother (school president/captain of the crew team/superstar) and father attended. Got expelled by the ‘Prune’ (same headmaster as my father and brother) after two years. I was the proverbial ‘underachiever’ and wise ass. I did LSD with my friends and stayed up all night roughly twice a week.
Begged for a surfboard, but I received a desk instead for Christmas. I bought a Snurfer for $10 and spent a lot of time at the local sledding hill on Long Island with friends.
Started attending the Marvelwood School (known as a ‘second chance’ boarding school) which was in Cornwall, CT at the time. At this point in my life, I flipped a switch and became the consummate overachiever. I worked my ass off. I was on the ski team. My memories revolve around physical activities such as going up to Mohawk Mountain, Snurfing around campus or simply playing pick-up touch football or basketball.
SEPTEMBER 21, 1971
My mother, Katherine ‘Kitty’ Carpenter died (leukemia) of a broken heart from losing her son. I was 17 and devastated. She was my last line of defense between me and my dad (who never hit me, but I never lived up to his expectations). My dad turned out to be the best single dad ever after my mom passed.
Graduated from Marvelwood as the valedictorian of my class. During my last semester of high school, I moved back to New York for an independent study program (at project Head Start) and started a landscaping business on the side. The total investments of my landscaping business were an old family station wagon, two rakes and some garbage/leaf bags.
I started college at the University of Colorado Boulder. There were 30,000 students and I did not know one. I tried out for the CU ski team (reigning NCAA skiing champs), but I didn’t make the team, which was mostly very good Europeans. I was cut by Bill Marolt who went on to become my nemesis at the FIS. I sued him (one of two people I have sued in my life) on behalf of snowboarders pursuing a fair Olympic qualification system (without skier input) and won (deservedly so). This was the beginning of the end of my life as a skier.
Left CU because I was lonely and sad, so I headed back east. I tried to pursue a career working with NY thoroughbred racehorses as a trainer but I quit the very day I saw a horse shocked in the nuts prior to a race. I was in it because I love animals.
Enrolled in night classes at NYU. I attended NYU for the next four years and went on to become captain of the NYU varsity swim team.
I graduated from New York University and worked for a small investment banking firm in Manhattan owned by a friend of my sister, Victor Niederhoffer.
I was working 12-14 hours a day and not loving it. I also (in the back of my mind) knew that surfing on snow could become a sport. So I bailed on my New York job, moved to Londonderry, Vermont and started ‘Burton Boards’ out of a barn in a house where I was the live-in caretaker and tending the two horses. By night, I bartended at the Birkenhaus Inn. By day, I built makeshift snowboard prototypes and tested them in the back hills of southern Vermont.
I made prototypes from a furniture making angle (steam bent solid ash) to boat construction (fiberglass chop) to surfboard construction in Peter Mel’s dad’s (John Mel) factory, Freeline Design. They made surfboards during the day, and I moved in and made snowboards all night. John Mel became a good friend who let me use his factory every night and encouraged me. (Note: Could be a funny very short interview for the doc)
I won the ‘Open’ Division at the National Snurfing Contest in Muskegon, Michigan. The prize money was $300.
I moved the factory from Londonderry, Vermont to Manchester, Vermont where I bought my first house with a barn. The barn was the factory, the living room was the store, the basement was the warehouse and the bedroom was the office. The phone rang around the clock with toll-free catalog inquiries.
January 1, 1982
I met my future wife Donna at The Mill Tavern in Londonderry, Vermont just after midnight on New Year’s Eve (1981/1982). Donna attended Columbia University in NYC but she came to Vermont on weekends. We would hang out and she would help in the factory.
MAY 21, 1983
During a torrential downpour, at the age of 29, I married 19-year-old Donna Gaston. The wedding ceremony was at Donna’s parents’ home in Greenwich, Conn with only 12 people present, but the reception had 400 guests. The weather was rain, thunder and lightning. And I was an emotional mess. The process brought up a lot of stuff from my past. We thought perhaps it was a mistake and we should return the wedding gifts. Obviously, it wasn’t a mistake.
I took a run with Stratton’s ski patrol to see if I could talk them into allowing snowboarders on the chairlifts. Luckily, it was a nice soft day, and my crew and I looked like we could handle the boards. After that, Stratton Mountain became the first major resort to allow snowboarders on lifts.
I accompanied my wife’s family on a ‘ski’ trip to Austria. When they skied, I snowboarded with them. I spent most of my evenings visiting ski factories, trying to find someone who would agree to produce snowboards with steel edges. Factories turned me down until I visited Keil Ski. Herr Keil and I connected immediately and went on to manufacture the first snowboards with ski construction, steel edges, a P-Tex base etc.
Donna and I moved to Europe and created Burton’s European base in Innsbruck, Austria. Before we moved, I attended the intensive language program at Middlebury College in Vermont for six weeks so I could start learning German. We lived in a house in Igls (near Innsbruck). The house was the office. The garage was where I assembled the ski construction boards molded by Keil for the European market. I focused on product and manufacturing (in German with Herr Keil). Donna focused on building a European distribution network.
We asked Hermann Kapferer in Innsbruck, Austria if he can help us find an office and assembly space with room for a store for Burton’s European operations. This was the beginning of Burton Europe.
NOVEMBER 12, 1989
Our first child, George Burton Carpenter was born in Rutland, Vermont. (Good luck finding an anesthesiologist on the first day of hunting season in Vermont).
I moved the Burton factory and head office from Southern Vermont to Northern Vermont (Burlington). We had just over 100 employees at the time.
AUGUST 18, 1993
Our second son, Taylor Gaston Burton Carpenter was born in Burlington, Vermont.
I helped teach George how to ski when he was 3. In the process, I almost killed both of us. It was the last time I skied.
JANUARY 24, 1994
My leg was broken when a skier ran into me while I was night riding at Stowe, Vermont. The doctor said my leg looked like Reggie Jackson hit it with a baseball bat.
JULY 24, 1996
Our third son, Timi Eaton Burton Carpenter was born.
JANUARY 13, 1997
Sports Illustrated interviewed me for an article called ‘Chairman of the Board Jake Burton Took a Childhood Toy & Launched an International Craze’.
Started riding 100 days a year.
I taught Katie Couric (the Today Show host) how to snowboard on national TV during the Olympics in Salt Lake City. And I was there to watch Burton riders Ross Powers & Kelly Clark win gold in the halfpipe events at the Olympics.
JANUARY 20, 2003
Craig Kelly died near Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada in an avalanche which trapped 8 people and killed 6 others. The entire sport and industry mourned him.
FEBURARY 23, 2003
Burton team rider Jeffrey Anderson died accidently when jokingly sliding down the rail of a staircase in Nagano, Japan.
Left the U.S. for a 10-month trip with my family to follow winter around the world and really dive into our business in the Southern Hemi, Asia and all over Europe. First stop was Quito, Ecuador. We snowboarded and surfed on six continents and had one of the best years of our lives.
During the last leg of my 10-month trip, I attended the Arctic Challenge snowboard event in Tromso Norway. We all then took a 6 hour ferry ride to the Lofoten islands. There, I surfed with Terje in the morning, then hiked up a mountain and snowboarded down that same afternoon in Stamsund, Norway. It was the first time I surfed and snowboarded on the same day.
Headed to the Torino Olympics in Italy to watch Burton riders Shaun White and Hannah Teter win halfpipe gold in outerwear that Burton designed exclusively for the US Olympic Snowboard Team.
Traveled with George, Terje, Dave Downing & DCP to the Caucausus mountains in Russia for a shoot. We were always protected by armed bodyguards and got dropped off by a huge military helicopter on sketchy snowpack at the top of a mountain. Terje pointed out a perfect line for George and me to take, and it was all good from there.
FEBRUARY 14, 2007
Stayed at the Stone Hut in Stowe for the massive Valentine’s Day storm that dumped four feet of snow at Stowe in Vermont.
MARCH 26, 2009
I told the company that due to the challenging global economic situation, we needed to reduce salaries from the top down and cut a percentage of North American staff.
DECEMBER 31, 2009
Burton snowboarder and Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce suffered a life threatening traumatic brain injury while training for the Vancouver Olympics.
JAN 19, 2010
Danny Davis injured himself in an accident and missed the Olympic Games.
Went to the Vancouver Olympics where Burton rider Shaun White won his second Olympic gold medal in halfpipe.
MARCH 16, 2010
I sent this email to the company: “It is with a very heavy heart that I announce the transition of our production facility (BMC/Burton Manufacturing Center) in South Burlington, Vermont into a new purely R&D driven prototype facility in our building next door to headquarters. Consequently, we will cease to manufacture production boards in Vermont. Along with this production operation we will lose 43 of the most loyal, productive people in the organization.” AP coverage here.
MAY 3, 2010
Informed the company that the current CEO Laurent Potdevin was leaving and I was taking back the CEO role.
JANUARY 12, 2011
JANUARY 13, 2011
I dedicated Craig’s, a new state of the art prototype facility next door to Burton HQ named in honor of Craig Kelly. It’s still there.
APRIL 29, 2011
I told the company that I was getting my heart valve repaired at Mayo Clinic. It was a condition I had since birth called mitral valve prolapse.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2011
I sent an email to the company that I had good news and bad news. “The bad news is that I have cancer. The good news is that it is as curable as it gets. What I have is called Seminoma, also known as Testicular Cancer (think Lance Armstrong).”
DECEMBER 14, 2011
After his celebration, I joined Kevin Pearce when he snowboarded for the first time after his TBI. I was undergoing chemo for testicular cancer at the time.
JANUARY 21, 2012
I sent an email to the company that my cancer was ‘toast’.
SEPTEMBER 27, 2012
Donna and I became the first snowboarders inducted into the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum (VSSM) Hall of Fame.
NOVEMBER 13, 2012
I created my first signature snowboard: ‘The Stone Hut’ with a Jimi Hendrix graphic.
DECEMBER 3, 2013
Headed to New York to unveil the 2014 Olympic U.S. Snowboarding Team uniform designed by Burton.
FEBRUARY 9, 2014
Slopestyle made its debut at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia and I was there to congratulate Burton riders Enni Rukajarvi on her silver medal and Mark McMorris on his bronze.
FEBRUARY 13, 2014
Another Olympics halfpipe competition went down, and I was there when Burton riders Ayumu Hirano (silver), Taku Hiraoka (bronze) and Kelly Clark (bronze) took home medals.
MAY 9, 2014
George, my oldest son, graduated from CU Boulder.
MAY 14, 2014
Once again, I became Burton’s Chairman as former Burton COO Mike Rees stepped up to the role of CEO.
DECEMBER 11, 2014
I let the company know about a health issue with my knee. The email said: “Because I’ve been transparent about personal health issues, and I am not wild about answering the same question repeatedly, I wanted to let you guys know that the lateral compartment of my knee is toast. I tried an arthroscopic procedure to fix it, but to no avail. Consequently, I have to get a partial knee replacement (lateral compartment). Fortunately, I get to keep all of my ligaments as well as the middle and medial compartments of my knee. Unfortunately this is the end of my northern-hemi snowboarding season.”
I visited Burton offices in Beijing and Korea. Here’s an interview clip with Bloomberg.
MARCH 5, 2015
Just three weeks after having a complete knee replacement, I snowboarded for the first time on my ‘new knee’ with George, Kevin Pearce and my surgeon Bryan Huber.
MARCH 12, 2015
I was brought to Copley hospital in Vermont for the first signs of Miller Fisher syndrome, a very rare type of Guillain-Barre syndrome. They transferred me to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in NH. I was informed that in three days I would not be able to swallow, breathe or open my eyes. According to Donna, I was intubated (breathing and swallowing tubes) on Sunday, March 15th. The paralysis spread for the first 2 1/2 weeks, then was stable (almost fully paralyzed) for another 2 1/2 weeks and then very slowly I got my muscles back. In total, approx. 8 weeks of paralysis and full-time on breathing machine. It was a total of 10-11 weeks before I was fully off the breathing machine. I was in the ICU my entire stay at Dartmouth Hitchcock.
MARCH 27, 2015
I was one of six honorees for the Tribeca Film Festival Disruptive Innovation Awards. I was in the ICU at Dartmouth at the time.
APRIL 22, 2015
I was moved to Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Boston to continue recovering from Miller Fisher Syndrome, starting with learning basic functions like how to eat with silverware.
One of Burton’s in-house photographers decided to spontaneously gather the entire company outside of Craig’s and take a group shot as a ‘get well’ wish to me. Everyone put up their middle fingers, which has become a symbol of love in our family and at the company. They blew up the photo to a giant poster size, and we hung it above my hospital bed where I could see it. The caption said, ‘We Fucking Love You Jake’. All the other offices around the world ended up doing a similar group photo.
JUNE 6, 2015
I begged and was permitted to leave Spaulding with my three kids, friends, a head nurse and a respiratory therapist to see the Belmont Stakes where American Pharoah won the first Triple Crown since 1978. I placed three bets and won them all, earning $5,000 that I gave to the nurses when I left the facility.
JUNE 15, 2015
I returned home to Stowe for the first time since I was diagnosed with Miller Fisher.
I visited Burton HQ for the first time since I got Miller Fisher.
AUGUST 19, 2015
I had my feeding tube removed.
I snowboarded again for the first time after Miller Fisher.
DECEMBER 28, 2015
New York Times reporter John Branch was the first reporter who spoke to me about Miller Fisher. His story was published on December 28, 2015.
Jake names Donna as Burton’s new CEO.
I worked with artist Jeff Koons on a signature snowboard. All proceeds went to Chill. New York Times coverage here.
Close friend and Burton rider Mark McMorris had a near fatal snowboarding accident in the Canadian backcountry. I visited him that week. Mark visited me several times while I was in the hospital with Miller Fisher.
Went to New York to roll out the 2018 Olympic Uniforms.
Went to South Korea for the Winter Olympics and watched as Burton riders Red Gerard, Anna Gasser, Chloe Kim and Shaun White all took home gold medals.
AUGUST 22, 2018
Close friend and doctor Bryan Huber is diagnosed with leukemia. Known as ‘Dr. Sexy’ to me, Bryan performed my knee replacement surgery in 2015 and was by my side during Miller Fisher.
Launched my own collection called Mine77.
Donna and I moved to Zürich, Switzerland for the year to escape the madness in the USA, help support the European market and shred the Alps.
NOVEMBER 10, 2019*
Jake sent this email to Burton employees: “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back. It’s the same tumor as the first time around. We just never got rid of it all. A bit of it hung out in my lymph nodes and got back into business.
The odds are in my favor, but it is going to be a struggle for sure.
As much as I dread what is facing me, it’s easier to deal with when you know that you have a family that will carry on.
I feel the same way about my company, my friends and our sport. I will be back, but regardless, everything is in good hands which is an amazing feeling when entering this zone of uncertainty.”
NOVEMBER 21, 2019*
John Lacy, Burton Co-CEO, sent this email to Burton employees: “It is with a very heavy heart that I share the news that Jake passed away peacefully last night surrounded by his family and loved ones as a result of complications from recurring cancer. He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much.
This all happened very suddenly, and it’s a tremendous loss for his family, his friends and all of you. Let’s send all of our love and positive energy to Donna, George, Taylor, Timi and the extended family.”
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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