Jake Burton Carpenter, The Godfather Of Snowboarding, Dies At 65

Nov 21, 2019
Originally published on November 21, 2019 7:59 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The man called the soul of snowboarding has died. Jake Burton Carpenter was the founder of the iconic Burton Snowboards company. And as Vermont Public Radio's Liam Elder-Connors reports, he helped open up the ski slopes to a whole new crowd.

LIAM ELDER-CONNORS, BYLINE: Fischer Van Golden is working at a ski and snowboarding shop in South Burlington. The store is buzzing as customers look through the dozens of brightly colored snowboards leaning against the wall. Van Golden says the store is close to the main Burton headquarters, which means it sells a good amount of the company's gear. He reaches over and takes a board down.

FISCHER VAN GOLDEN: So the Burton Custom is probably one of the most iconic snowboards in the whole sport. It's the one board they always continue to have in their line.

ELDER-CONNORS: Van Golden says he's been working in the snowboard industry for a while, and Burton products have been a big part of his life. Even as a kid, he used to eagerly wait each year for the new catalog of Burton products.

VAN GOLDEN: And then just, like, obsessing over all the different products that were in it and, like, memorizing everything.

ELDER-CONNORS: Burton Snowboards was founded by Jake Burton Carpenter in 1977. According to the company, Carpenter worked as a bartender by night. And during the day, he built snowboards in his Vermont barn and tested them on nearby hills. Carpenter didn't invent the snowboard. A similar device, called the Snurfer - think snow surfer - was invented about 10 years before Carpenter started his company. But Van Golden says Carpenter revolutionized the design of snowboards.

VAN GOLDEN: He sort of pioneered the sport itself and came up with the idea of strapping your feet actually to the board rather than just, like, surfing on top of the board with no binding. He created, you know, bindings that attach you to the board so you can actually, like, carve and control the board much better.

ELDER-CONNORS: While Carpenter is widely credited with popularizing the sport, it wasn't his first thought when he started the company. In a 2016 StoryCorps interview, Carpenter said at first he thought of the company as a get-rich-quick scheme.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE BURTON CARPENTER: It became much more than that because I didn't get rich quick.

ELDER-CONNORS: Carpenter says his focus soon turned to nurturing the sport. In the early days of the company, many ski resorts didn't even allow snowboarders on the mountains.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BURTON CARPENTER: After a couple of years, it became much more important to me that I was right about the decision that there was a sport there. And I focused not about my own material needs or accomplishments or whatever; I just thought about the sport.

ELDER-CONNORS: Now, thanks in part to Carpenter's work, when you go to the slopes, you can't miss the groups of kids on snowboards who fly off big jumps, trying to land complicated tricks.

In a company-wide email this morning, Burton told its employees that Carpenter, the, quote, "soul of snowboarding," died Wednesday night from complications due to cancer. And they urged their employees to honor Carpenter by going snowboarding.

For NPR News, I'm Liam Elder-Connors in Colchester, Vt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.