Founder and Chairman, Burton Snowboards
Name: Jake Burton Carpenter
Birthday: April 29, 1954
Home Town: Stowe, Vermont
Years Riding: 40 years
Favorite Resort: My home resort, Stowe
Favorite place to be in the summer: Surfing off a boat in the Indian Ocean
What do you do when you own the world’s leading snowboard company? You ride as much as possible. And that’s exactly what Jake Burton does. For at least 100 days a year, Jake is on snow testing new Burton product, taking runs with fellow riders and just having fun. He’s not a fair weather rider either. You’ll see Jake on the hill when it’s spitting rain, getting his early morning fix before heading to work. When he’s not riding, Jake goes to meetings, checks email and works just like everyone else. He’s involved in everything from product development to catalog and ad creation. When it comes down to it, Jake is a constant reminder of why Burton exists in the first place – because snowboarding is so damn fun.
How did you become a leader in the snowboard business?
During the late 60s, I modified Snurfers until 1977 when I started Burton and built my first production prototype. I was a complete loser in shop class in school, yet there I was, working out of a barn in Vermont, figuring out how to manufacture a snowboard. There was no road map. I combined some skateboarding and a little bit of surfing experience with the Snurfer, then added some common sense--which is probably why it took so long to make a product that was rideable. The rest is history I guess.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a kid I worked at the New York Racetrack (Aqueduct) right near my house. For a long time my aspiration was to become a race-horse trainer. I later found out that it probably wasn’t the best industry to get into if you love animals as much I do.
What is your favorite thing about coming to work?
When you walk into your house you’re pretty much living and breathing your family. When I walk into Burton I have the opportunity to live and breathe snowboarding. I’ve been doing this for over half my life, and it presents a vibe that makes me very comfortable, happy and productive. And I also like saying hi to all the dogs on the walk to my office.
Why do you think your peers consider you one of the most influential people in the snowboard industry?
I think my success came down to being there at the beginning, working ridiculously hard, and using creative solutions to problems or challenges. If you do all of that, surround yourself with good people and treat them well, it’ll be alright.
What sport (other than snowboarding) do you enjoy playing or watching the most and why?
As far as ‘playing,’ outside of snowboarding it’s pretty much all about surfing for me. I’m taking more time in the snowboarding off-season to go on surf trips, and it seems that on every trip I get more addicted to the sport. I’ll never be as good of a surfer as I am a snowboarder, but I have a lot of fun trying.
If you could change one thing about the snowboard industry, what would that be?
As far as the sport goes, it would be pretty cool if avalanches didn’t exist. They’ve ruined many a good day and taken a lot of people out in the process. On the industry side, I would make it a rule that you can’t have a trade show unless it’s at a powder resort destination.
What international place have you traveled to where you think you could live?
New Zealand or Australia would probably be right up there, but I could see myself living in Japan or Europe (which I’ve already done) as well. While I certainly travel a lot, I regret the fact that I haven’t taken more time to actually live in some foreign locations. It has such a positive impact in terms of broadening your perspectives, but at the same time making you appreciate what you have at home.
What have you learned from your travels?
That there is a lot more to this world than the USA.
What is your dream vacation?
Snowboarding and surfing in the same day is something I’ve done five times in my life, but I’ve yet to hit epic waves and powder in the same day.
Did you ever foresee a day that snowboarding would be one of the most popular winter Olympic sports?
By the time people started talking about the possibility of snowboarding being in the Olympics, I didn’t really care. The sport was doing super well without Olympic exposure, and the image of the sport was in the hands of snowboarders.
When we were informed that snowboarding was going to be in the Olympics, we gave our riders the choice of participating or not participating. I can remember the conversation I had with Terje when he decided he was not going to participate. He just had no real interest in going to the Olympics. Honestly, I thought he was making a mistake as he was clearly the favorite to win the halfpipe. Then, when I went to the first Olympics and they spelled the name of the sport wrong and proceeded to hold the halfpipe event in a driving rain storm, I understood where Terje was coming from. Ever since then it’s been a battle, but I think that we have done a pretty good job of protecting the integrity of the sport and of freestyle riders.
It doesn’t surprise me that snowboarding has become a popular event. What would you rather watch: a solid halfpipe event or cross country skiers with guns?
Do you think it’s a positive thing for snowboarding to be in the Olympics?
I could lie and say that the Olympics are just another international event, but that’s simply not the case. At the same time, it’s not as big a deal as most people outside of our sport tend to believe. Snowboarding is not a sport that was ‘made’ by the Olympics, and it seems to have little impact on the core of the sport.
That said, what the Olympics do provide is a forum to present to the rest of the world what our sport is all about. Some of those people will never snowboard and some of them may come into our sport, but whether they’re future snowboarders or not, we certainly want to leave them with a good impression. Unfortunately along with this opportunity to talk to the outside world about our sport comes a complete loss of control over how it’s presented. The entire production is controlled by a ski federation, and that can be problematic.
For those riders who choose to participate in the Olympics, they represent a huge opportunity. The mainstream exposure that comes along with an Olympic title is huge, and no one deserves that more than the riders who are going through the process of qualifying and competing in the Olympics.
Burton is creating the outerwear for the 2010 U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team. What are your thoughts on that?
I’ve never been a fan of uniforms, but if anyone is going to outfit the U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team, we’re the company that should step up and do it right. As with everything we design and manufacture, we have already brought together our creative people with some of our country’s best snowboarders to ensure that the final product will represent the riders, the sport and the U.S.A. in an authentic way. Our partnership with GORE-TEX enables the riders to rest assured that regardless of the weather in Vancouver, they will be warm, dry and free to do their best.
How do you think things will go for snowboarding at the upcoming 2010 Olympics?
There is going to be very tight competition for a spot on the U.S. Olympic halfpipe team, but I’m confident that U.S. Snowboarding will have a fair process to determine who makes the cut. Once we all arrive in Vancouver, I’m sure that the Canadians will be excellent hosts because of their easy going nature and their passion for snowboarding.
What is the scariest moment you have ever had in snowboarding?
About 20 years ago, our bank who was lending us all the money that we needed to run our business told us they didn’t want to lend us money anymore. They were convinced snowboarding was a fad that had run its course. That was a scary time.
When people look back on your life, how do you want to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as a good husband, father, friend, relative and someone who always did the right thing for the sport of snowboarding and the Burton brand.
What is the greatest thing about being you?
- Being able to travel around the world getting 100+ days of snowboarding in a season.
- Having access to prototype product before the market has even seen it.
- Working with a super fun team here at Burton.
What is the most difficult thing about being you?
Going to trade shows and being a complete asshole magnet.
What is more important to you than snowboarding?
My family and friends.
What suggestions would you give to someone who aspires to be successful like you?
Choose an industry with a lifestyle that you can become passionate about and don’t ever consider giving up.
If you had to pick one person who has inspired you, who would that be and why?
Whether he was alive or dead, Craig Kelly has always shown me the way.
What is next for you? What does your future hold?
Hopefully a lot more powder days and a few barrels along the way.