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Jake Burton Carpenter, a snowboarder first and foremost, leaves Colorado legacy of community and persistence

Colorado ski resorts lined up against snowboarding even after Jake Burton Carpenter persuaded Berthoud Pass to open to athletes "surfing" the snow in 1978.

Jake Burton Carpenter. (Via Burton Snowboards)
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Lucy Garst remembers the grief she and her husband, Ike, got for welcoming Jake Burton Carpenter, Tom Sims and their side-slipping ilk to their Berthoud Pass ski area in 1978. 

“Ike had a very soft spot in his heart for both Jake and Tom Sims,” Garst says. “Both were willing to work together with us, even though we were tiny, to make something happen. We caught a lot of flak for it! I remember being in a Colorado Ski Country meeting and several of the other ski area managers got Ike in a corner and said, ‘What are you doing, we can’t allow this!’ Ike just said, ‘These guys are very enthusiastic, they’re willing to buy tickets. I think it’s the coming thing.'”

Berthoud Pass and Ski Cooper were among the first resorts to embrace Carpenter’s Burton-riding snowboarders, sparking a movement that would change snowsports forever. That legacy lost one of its legendary founder on Wednesday with the death of Carpenter, whose name is synonymous with snowboarding around the world.

He died just a week after emailing his staff at Burton Snowboards that the cancer he battled in 2011 had returned. He was 65.

After founding his company in Vermont in 1977, Carpenter became perhaps the single biggest advocate for snowboarding, particularly in Colorado. He traveled to Colorado many times in the late 1970s and 1980s to help introduce the sport to local slopes, beginning with smaller ski areas like Berthoud Pass and Ski Cooper.

He worked closely with local organizers of first-ever snowboarding events, including Paul Alden, helping pave the way for larger resorts to allow snowboarders on the chairlift.

“Jake took an early interest in Colorado, I think because he had gone to school at CU Boulder briefly, and also because he recognized that Colorado would always have the earliest snowfall, a vibrant snowboarding scene, and access to some of the best turns in the country,” says David Alden, Paul Alden’s son, who grew up in Colorado and worked as the first snowboard instructor at Berthoud Pass ski area before riding for the Burton Snowboards team from 1983 to 1990. “Jake recognized the importance of Colorado as a crossroads for snowboarding.”

In 1981, Carpenter competed in the first major snowboarding contest in Colorado, taking third at Ski Cooper’s King of the Mountain contest, finishing behind Winterstick team rider Scott Jacobson and Sims Snowboards founder Tom Sims, who died in 2012.

The King of the Mountain competition moved to Berthoud Pass Ski Area from 1982 to 1985 before morphing into the World Snowboard Classic that debuted at Breckenridge in 1986, becoming the first major international snowboarding event.

“Those early races and contests were really the first touchpoints of the Burton Snowboards story in Colorado,” says Trent Bush, a board member at Vail’s Colorado Snowsports Museum. “He’d been an aspiring ski racer at CU, then got injured in a car crash, ended up not being a ski racer, and then went off on this whole other trajectory.”

The Colorado Snowsports Museum has a fiberglass prototype board Carpenter created for the 1979 World Snurfing Championships. The Snurfer, invented by Sherman Poppen in 1965, was a predecessor of the modern snowboard, so named because it allowed athletes to surf on snow.

“He won the Open Division, which they had to create because he brought a modified version of the BB1 Londonderry, from when he was making snowboards by hand in Londonderry, Vermont,” Bush says. “We also have the first BB1 production model and the molding block he actually used to make those boards.”

After watching the growth of snowboarding at Berthoud Pass and Ski Cooper, other Colorado ski areas eventually relented.

In 1985, Carpenter and Alden were part of a team that persuaded Aspen Skiing Company to allow snowboarding at Buttermilk on a trial basis. Alden remembers Carpenter putting up the gas money to get everybody there for the debut. His company still is paying gas money (and airfare) for his snowboarders to flock to Buttermilk.

Red Gerard rides a rail in his backyard in Silverthorne. The Olympic gold medalist has partnered with Powdr to develop Red’s Backyard rail garden and jib park at Powdr’s Copper, Killington and Woodward Park City resorts. (Dean Blotto Gray, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Today, that mountain is renowned as the longtime home of the Winter X Games, which since 2002 has featured snowboarding’s top athletes.

Burton-sponsored snowboarders perennially dominate the event: Shaun White owns 18 X Games medals, 13 of them gold, all earned in Aspen. That’s the most gold and most medals of any snowboarder at X Games. Kelly Clark, Chloe Kim, Anna Gasser, Mark McMorris, Ayumu Hirano, and Red Gerard, the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics slopestyle gold medalist, are among the Burton team riders who have topped recent contest podiums. 

In 1987, a decade into his snowboard business, Carpenter personally helped sway the leadership team at Vail — one of the last remaining holdouts in Colorado — to allow snowboarding on its slopes. It marked the beginning of a long relationship. By 2013 he’d purchased a home in Vail and moved his long-running Burton U.S. Open event from Stratton Mountain in Vermont to Colorado: Vail hosted the 32nd annual Burton U.S. Open in 2013 and every year since.

The 38th annual Burton U.S. Open will be held Feb. 24-29 at Vail.

Carpenter was inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Museum Hall of Fame Class as a “Sport Builder” in the Class of 2010. The museum, which renovated its snowboard history exhibit in 2018, has several boards and other items from the Burton Snowboards archives on loan.

Carpenter and current Burton Snowboards owner and co-CEO Donna Carpenter, his wife, have hosted annual fundraisers for their Chill Foundation at the museum since 2013. The nonprofit youth development program is a six-week curriculum using boardsports to teach “patience, courage, persistence, responsibility, respect, and pride, provide a framework for learning and personal growth.”

The Denver chapter of the Chill Foundation was established in 2005 and has helped introduce thousands of Colorado youth to snowboarding.

“I tend to think of the history of snowboarding as a long sequence of seemingly unimportant and humble moments shared between really good friends that aggregated into snowboarding as we now know it,” David Alden says. “Looking back on it, Jake was there at just about every crux. Now that we’ve lost Snurfer founder Sherman Poppen, we’ve lost Sims Snowboards founder Tom Sims, and we’ve lost Jake, it’s a good time to reflect. Yeah, these guys were consummate businessmen building their brands, but they were snowboarders first and foremost. Jake always led with that.”


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