Jake Burton Carpenter, pioneer who turned snowboarding into a billion-dollar industry, dies at 65

Jake Burton Carpenter in 2017. Snowboards made by his pioneering company remain synonymous with the sport,
Jake Burton Carpenter in 2017. Snowboards made by his pioneering company remain synonymous with the sport,
(John Lamparski / Getty Images)

It was four decades ago that Jake Burton Carpenter started a small business out of his Vermont barn, looking to make his own version of the Snurfer, a snow toy that dated to the 1960s.

“Early on, I was laughed at by friends,” he told The Times in 1998. “Good friends.”

His vision would ultimately give rise to Burton Snowboards, making him a pioneer in a sport that would become both a centerpiece for the Winter Olympics and a global, multibillion-dollar business.

The 65-year-old Carpenter died in Burlington, Vt., on Wednesday night.


“It is with a very heavy heart that we share that Burton founder Jake Burton Carpenter passed away peacefully last night surrounded by his family and loved ones as a result of complications from recurring cancer,” his company said in a statement.

First diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011, Carpenter had reportedly notified employees this month that the disease had returned. His passing drew immediate response from the sports world and beyond.

“Jake will forever be in our hearts,” the X Games tweeted on Thursday.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) called Carpenter “a visionary who helped nurture the sport he loved into an international and Olympic event.”


By the 1980s, Carpenter’s company had taken its place as the largest manufacturer in the industry, with snowboards evolving from simple wood and fiberglass to high-tech materials and sophisticated bindings. All the while, Carpenter was driven by the joy of riding.

“When you experience carving a turn on a snowboard, skiing is rather lifeless by comparison,” he said in 1989. “It’s so much simpler and the sensation is so much purer.”

Jake Burton Carpenter, owner of Burton Snowboards, shows an early model, right, and the latest version of his snowboards, left, at his office in Burlington, Vt., in 2002.
(Alden Pellett / Associated Press)

The Burton U.S. Open ranks among the world’s top competitions and his snowboards remain synonymous with the sport, ridden by Olympic champions who have included Shaun White and Chloe Kim.


Burton co-CEO John Lacy said a celebration of Carpenter’s life would be held 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.”