Burton Snowboards Founder Jake Burton Carpenter Dies At 65

Nov 21, 2019

Jake Burton Carpenter, who popularized the sport of snowboarding and founded the Burlington-based Burton Snowboards, has died at age 65.

In an email sent to Burton staff Thursday morning, company co-CEO John Lacy announced the news of Carpenter's death:

"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. We will share more details about plans to celebrate Jake’s life soon."

As a way to celebrate Carpenter, Lacy also suggested in his email that employees "do what Jake would be doing tomorrow, and that’s riding."

Carpenter was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011; according to the Associated Press, he had informed staff earlier this month that his cancer had returned.

Jake Burton Carpenter built his company on the concept of Sherman Poppen's "Snurfer" board, the predecessor to the snowboard. Snurfer boards continue to sell today, too.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Carpenter founded Burton Snowboards in 1977, building upon the concept of Sherman Poppen's "Snurfer" board

More from NPR's How I Built ThisRemembering Jake Burton Carpenter

He may not have invented the snowboard, but Fischer Van Golden said Carpenter revolutionized the design of snowboards.

"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," said Van Golden, who works at Alpine Shop in South Burlington. "He created, you know, bindings that attach you to the board so you can actually like carve and control the board much better."

In the decades since Burton Snowboards' founding, snowboarding has skyrocketed in popularity and become a fixture of the winter sports scene.

Snowboarder Shaun White rides a Burton snowboard while competing in the halfpipe finals at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 14, 2018.
Credit Lee Jin-man / Associated Press File

Carpenter and his wife, Donna, were longtime VPR supporters. In 2016 the couple participated in StoryCorps, talking about the sport's impact on their lives.

In that 2016 interview, Carpenter said at first he thought of the company as a get-rich-quick scheme.

"It became much more than that because I didn't get rich quick," Carpenter said.

Burton co-CEO John Lacy suggested to employees that they should snowboard as a way to commemorate Jake Burton Carpenter, who died Wednesday evening.
Credit Anthony Rodriguez, Jr. / VPR

According to Carpenter, 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.

"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," Carpenter said. "And I focused not about my own material needs or accomplishments or whatever — I just thought about the sport."

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 and try to land complicated tricks.

Both Jake and Donna were inducted into the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2012.

Vermont officials and snowboarding enthusiasts mourned the death of Burton founder Jake Burton Carpenter, who died Wednesday.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Vermont political leaders have issued written statements in the wake of Carpenter's death. Gov. Phil Scott said that Carpenter "changed winter as we know it."

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger noted Carpenter's impact on the city, stating:

"Today, the City mourns the loss of one of its great entrepreneurs and creative spirits. Both the sport and the company that Jake built have contributed greatly to the success and character of modern Burlington."

Sen. Patrick Leahy called Carpenter "a visionary," and the senator also reflected on a piece of Burton memorabilia in his office:

"Hanging in my office is one of the early, wooden “Burton Boards” that are now so iconic to the sport. Marcelle and I will keep it there as a reminder of Jake’s generosity to his employees and his community, which was exemplified by the annual, open celebration he and Donna threw at their own home. It will stand as a reminder of his fierce dedication to address the emerging crisis of climate change and not only what it meant to the future of sport he held so dear, but to his children’s futures. And it will stand as the reminder of his friendship and his enduring love for our state."

This post was last updated at 6:05 p.m.