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Snowboarder, Innovator, Entrepreneur: The Life And Legacy Of Jake Burton Carpenter

Wood cut outs spelling "Jake" on stop of a snowy mountain.
Lisa Rathke
Associated Press
A wooden sign honors snowboard pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter at Stowe Mountain Resort on Friday, Nov. 22. Snowboarders turned out to take turns down the mountain on opening day in honor of the founder of Burton Snowboards, who died Nov. 20.

Jake Burton Carpenter has been called the "godfather" of snowboarding, founding Burton Snowboards and helping transform the sport from a novelty into a staple of winter recreation. He died last week from complications related to cancer. He was  65. 

Vermont Edition spoke with snowboarders and associates to reflect on Carpenter's life, career and legacy.

Former professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce knew Carpenter as a friend and professional mentor. Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury at 22 while training for the U.S. Olympic Team. After more than 700 days of recovery and physical therapy, Pearce said Carpenter joined him for his first ride back down the mountain. 

Pat Bridges is a reporter and editorial director for Snowboarder Magazine, and he extensively interviewed Carpenter in 2016 for the story A Paper Trail: The Jake Burton Carpenter Interview. Originally from Killington, where Bridges first learned about snowboarding, he now works in California. Bridges flew to Vermont to pay his respects – and do some honorary mountain runs – at the memorial services held for Jake Carpenter in Stowe.

Chris Doyle, the Rapid Prototype Engineer and “Mad Scientist” at Burton Snowboards, first met Carpenter 1993 and worked alongside him at Burton since 1996. 

All three men attended the memorial service for Jake Burton Carpenter on Monday, Nov. 25. And in thinking about how to move forward, they remembered the things Carpenter left them with. 

Doyle reminisced about his first day on the job at Burton:

“All of a sudden I feel these eyes just boring into the side of my head, and I look over, and it’s Jake, just radar locked on me, coming down the hallway. He sticks his head into my lab and he goes, ‘You work here now?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I started today.’ And he has this big smile, and he shakes my hand, and he’s like, ‘Well, welcome to Burton.’ And I said, ‘Oh, thanks.’ And then his face just goes to stone. He looks at me with these just unblinking eyes - and I’m going to paraphase here because Jake was very plain-spoken - but he says, to effect, ‘Just don’t mess it up.’ And he turns around and walks out, and I went, ‘Oh my gosh, that guy’s my boss now.’ And to this day, you don’t want to let him down, and you don’t want to mess it up.”

Pearce said he would carry with him forever Jake’s generosity and “happiness of life”:

“He lived unlike I’ve ever seen anyone live. He inspired me to live my life how I live it.”

And Bridges expressed hope for someone to continue what Carpenter started with the sport of snowboarding:

“I just hope that whoever carries on the mantle, adheres to Jake’s doctrine of, ‘Listen to the riders.’ That’s something that we need moving forward for the sport to remain healthy and something we all love to do, and for people to have access to it, we need a figurehead to step up and take that role.”

Broadcast live on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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