BURLINGTON, Vt. – Snowboarders, friends and Vermonters are sharing their memories of Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece.
Carpenter, founder of the iconic Vermont company Burton, died Wednesday at 65. Kevin Pearce, a former professional snowboarder sponsored by Burton, said Carpenter helped him recover from a traumatic brain injury he suffered while training for the Olympics in 2009.
“It’s kind of been like a lifetime of Jake being there for me,” Pearce said by phone. “Starting when I was five and introducing me to the world of snowboarding to helping me out through my whole injury, he did more than I could explain right now both for my family and me.”
Pearce, who is now a motivational speaker and advocate for people with traumatic brain injury, said Carpenter’s contributions to the sport are the leading factor in snowboarding’s popularity today.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s no way snowboarding would be what it is today without him,” Pearce said. “I believe we owe everything to Jake and his innovation and creative mind and ability to do what he did, he basically created and guided snowboarding to where it is today.”
Carpenter was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011, but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health. Earlier this month, he emailed his staff, saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.”
In a tweet, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy called Jake Burton Carpenter, who has died at age 65, the soul and patron saint of snowboarding and a beloved Vermonter. In a statement issued later, Leahy called Carpenter a visionary who “valued community.”
In a statement, Gov. Phil Scott said Carpenter “changed winter as we know it.”
“It takes millions of years to move mountains, but Jake Burton Carpenter was able to do it in a single lifetime. From snowboarders being chased from the slopes to Olympic gold medals being placed around their necks, Jake led the way and changed winter as we know it. We are forever grateful for his contributions to Vermont and snow sports around the world.
— Gov. Phil Scott on the passing of Jake Burton Carpenter
Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.
It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.
“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.
It is virtually impossible to avoid the name “Burton” once the snow starts falling at any given mountain around the world these days. The name is plastered on the bottoms of snowboards, embroidered on jackets, stenciled into bindings.
At a bar in Pyeongchang, South Korea, not far from where snowboarding celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Olympics last year, there was a wall filled with Burton pictures and memorabilia — as sure a sign as any of the global reach of a company founded in his garage in Londonderry, Vermont.
The company sponsored pretty much every top rider at one time or another — from Shaun White to Kelly Clark to Chloe Kim.
Carpenter watched all his champions win their Olympic golds from near the finish line, never afraid to grind away in the mosh pit of snowboarders and snowboarding fans that he helped create.
In an interview in 2010, he said he was happy with how far his sport had come, and comfortable with where it was going.
“I had a vision there was a sport there, that it was more than just a sledding thing, which is all it was then,” Burton said. “We’re doing something that’s going to last here. It’s not like just hitting the lottery one day.”
Lacy said details about the celebration of Burton’s life would be coming soon but, for now, “I’d encourage everyone to do what Jake would be doing tomorrow, and that’s riding. It’s opening day at Stowe, so consider taking some turns together, in celebration of Jake.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.