• Jennifer Holleis

Mr. Burton's feel for snow.

(Reading time: 2 - 4 minutes)


Jake Burton Carpenter revolutionized winter sports in a small barn in 1977. He made snowboarding a trendy sport and set off a worldwide boom. Today, his company is still the world market leader with a 32 percent market share and $200 million in sales.

His fondest childhood memory is a vacation in the Bromley Mountains. In 1961, six-year-old Jake Burton Carpenter from Long Island stood on skis and experienced for the first time the exhilaration that body control and speed can cause.

As a 14-year-old student, he discovers the "snurfer" - a simple board with a rope at the tip. "It had been around since the 1920s, but the manufacturer sold it as a ten-dollar toy, not as a piece of sports equipment," he recounted. In fact, it's not much of a steering device, and of course it doesn't allow for big jumps. Jake nevertheless suspects that this board has potential. "The boards would just have to be wider and longer and have some kind of binding." With $200000 inheritance from his grandmother, lots of enthusiasm and a degree from NYU in business, he moves to Londonderry, Vermont, in 1977 with no business plan or experience. There he starts his company, Burton Boards, and sets out to make snowboards. His workshop is - the classic - in a barn.

In the evenings, he waits tables at the local pub called the Birch House Inn in Londonderry. He lives there rent-free and in return takes care of two horses. His goal is to eventually produce 50 boards a day together with his three employees. Step by step, the prototypes - Burton tests them himself in the mountains - are taking shape. They have adjustable rubber straps for the feet and anti-slip surfaces for better navigation. Some are made of laminated wood like a skateboard or fiberglass like surfboards.

In the first year, however, the entrepreneur sells only 300 boards for $88 each. Hardly anyone wants one of these things, with which one is not welcome on the ski slopes and not allowed on the ski lifts. In the second year, the money is used up, but not the belief in the product. On the contrary. To keep going, Jake works for two summers as a tennis instructor in New York during the day and mixes cocktails at night. "During that time, I understood that I needed to establish snowboarding as a trend for 15-, 16-year-olds." He hosts competitions, promotes talent. Snowboarding becomes cool. The concept works.

On New Year's Eve 1981/82, he meets his future wife Donna Gaston at the Mill Tavern in Londonderry. By then he has already made his first million dollars with the boards. It is a matter of honor that Donna and their three sons later become excellent snowboarders.

In the winter of 1983, he convinces the operators of Stratton Mountain Resort to take snowboards on the lift. It is the first ski resort to make this move. Today, 473 of 476 U.S. ski resorts do so.

Production now doubles every year, and demand from Europe grows so dynamically that Jake and Donna move to Innsbruck for three years in 1985. They plan to launch Burton Sporting Goods in collaboration with Austrian manufacturer Keil. Donna takes care of sales during this time and repeatedly takes on the role of CEO. By 1992, the company has 100 employees, and Burton has become the epitome of a snowboarding generation with its own heroes. When the sport becomes Olympic in Nagano in 1998, that is the accolade. Now the board has officially arrived in winter sports. Snowboarding is not an official hiring criterion for the current 1,000 employees - but anyone who sees the empty desks after fresh snow can guess how Jake and Donna Burton have always run their company. In 2016, Donna, with her 37 years of Burton board experience, once again became CEO, with John Lacy, who has been on board for 22 years, at her side as co-CEO. By the time Jake Burton dies of cancer on Nov. 20, 2019, the one-man shop has become a global leader with $200 million in revenue and a market value of $700 million. John Lacy sends employees out for fresh air the day after Jake's death - it had snowed during the night. Jake would have wanted it that way.

Author: Jennifer Holleis

Publishing address

  • Private Wealth GmbH & Co. KG
    Montenstrasse 9 - 80639 München
  • +49 (0) 89 2554 3917
  • +49 (0) 89 2554 2971
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Social media