Burton roots run deep
As world mourns snowboard icon, locals remember how it started
The world paused last week to remember snowboard pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter who died after a battle with cancer at the age of 65. But for many in the area, Burton was a local guy who dared to believe in a dream so real he forced it to come true against all odds.
The local connection to Carpenter and Burton snowboards runs deep with pride that this is where Burton was born. The company may have found its fortune in Burlington and its fame in the halfpipe in Nagano, Japan, but it found its soul in Londonderry and Manchester in Vermont's Green Mountains.
Few locals believed that would actually happen in the early days.
Mimi Wright, who was instrumental in convincing Carpenter to move to Londonderry to pursue his dream, helped build the first boards created in Londonderry. But she never believed it would succeed.
"Nobody thought he wouldn't make a go of it," Wright said.
She said things just didn't go well for him at first.
She told the story about the time Carpenter was so strapped for money, he rented a van and filled it with wood to drive to Long Island, where he was from, to sell to the city residents.
The trip ended with two flat tires in Brattleboro where Carpenter ditched the wood and returned to Londonderry.
But Carpenter was sure he could turn his ideas into something big.
"He was so driven it didn't stop him," Wright said. "He was up against a lot. He had a vision and he went with it. Nothing was going to stop him. He believed it was eventually going to work out."
Wright, who runs the Taylor Farm with her brother in Londonderry
, assisted Carpenter to establish himself in Vermont when she helped him secure a farmhouse in South Londonderry at which he lived rent-free in exchange for helping take care of the place as well as a pair of horses on the property.
It was in a barn at that farm in which Carpenter created the first prototypes for what would become Burton snowboards.
Soon, Carpenter moved the operation into Londonderry on the Main Street and hired his first three employees, Mimi, her brother Mark Wright, and one of Carpenter's friends, Mike, from Chester, Mimi said.
In January 1979, Mimi said they produced the first snowboard.
"I did the silk screening," Mimi Wright said. "Mark and Mike did all the board crafting."
Mimi also won a competition to design the company logo after she was the only one who submitted a design.
Her design became the iconic Burton image — the jagged mountains over the word Burton — that would serve as Burton's logo for many years.
"I was the only one who presented something," Wright said. "I won the competition and designed that first mountain scene."
In 1981, Carpenter moved to Manchester where he bought a home at 5823 Main St. with a barn behind it.
On Dec. 20, 1981, he applied for a zoning permit that allowed him to convert a barn on his property into a production facility for his snowboards. On Dec. 24, he was granted the permit for "Home Industry for making of snowboards."
In a timeline of events in his life, Carpenter reflected on his time in the Manchester house, saying, "The barn was the factory, the living room was the store, the basement was the warehouse and the bedroom was the office," Carpenter wrote. "The phone rang around the clock with toll-free catalog inquiries."
Burton ended up leaving Manchester for Burlington in 1992.
Lee Krohn, now the town manager in Shelburne, worked in Manchester then and remembers being in near-constant communication with Carpenter, trying to keep Burton in town.
Krohn said, in the end, Burton needed things Manchester couldn't offer, a larger workforce and an airport among them.
Burton had just more than 100 employees at the time.
One of them was Arlington's Brew Moscarello came to work as a sales representative for Burton Snowboards. But quickly became Carpenter's go-to guy when it came to teaching the sport to the non-snowboarder.
"I was teaching investment bankers and I even taught Gov. [Howard] Dean how to do it," Moscarello said. "Jake referred those guys to me. I was teaching the influencers and Jake and I had a great relationship in that regard."
Moscarello said when Burton moved from Manchester to Burlington in 1992, that had a choice to make.
"My wife (Janine) and I had to make a big decision when he decided to move," Moscarello said. "We decided to stay because we were both family-oriented."
Despite the company's successes in selling boards, it was Carpenter's efforts to convince the ski mountains to allow boards on the slopes and lifts that he really had his biggest success.
Even with snowboarding becoming a growing sport, most ski areas still didn't allow them.
Carpenter began working on changing minds and he found an ally back where it all started at Stratton Mountain, which became the first ski area to allow boards on its slopes.
On Nov. 23, as Stratton opened its season for the year just days after Carpenter's death, Stratton sent the first chair of the year up the mountain with a Burton board strapped in for the ride.
"He really struggled with that," Wright said. "It became this world-wide phenomenon and Olympic sport because of him."
At the 1998 Olympic games, Stratton's Ross Powers, now the snowboarding coach at Stratton Mountain School, won bronze in the halfpipe for the United States' first snowboarding medal riding a Burton snowboard. Four years later, Powers wore gold and Carpenter was there.
Wright said she remembers Carpenter as being funny and loving to laugh but he cared about people.
"He was intense in his approach, but I think, over time, he became more and more concerned for other people," Wright said. "He did a tremendous amount of good for others."
Today, his legacy lives on and continues to trickle through the snowboarding world.
Not far from where Burton built his first prototypes, a former Burton employee works out of his garage converted into a workshop, building boards.
Jesse Loomis, who worked at Burton in the 1990s, is quietly building his own brand of snowboards under the PowderJet brand name.
"There's almost no part of my life that Jake's efforts didn't influence," Loomis said. "I met my wife at Burton and I worked at a snowboarding magazine in California. He created an industry and that's where I met most of my friends, my wife and I have a snowboard company."
A big part of Loomis' business is teaching others how to make their own snowboards.
Memories of Carpenter runs deep through these hills and his legacy lives on.
Adam Samrov of the Bennington Banner contributed to this story.
Contact Darren Marcy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell at 802-681-6534.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.