The Snow Report
As industry folks shuffled across the showroom floor at Outdoor Retailer's Winter Market last week, their plastic nametag holders chafing across DWR-coated midlayers, Jake Burton was just hanging out in jeans and a T-shirt, blending right in. Burton, who started Burton Snowboards in 1977, was chatting up pro riders John Jackson and Dave Downing as if they were just waiting for their turn to bowl. We joined the pow-wow to talk about some of the company’s latest developments.
How often are you riding these days?
Over the last 15 years, I've been riding over 100 days a year, although I missed last season because I had a little testicular cancer issue. I was bald and everything, really out of it, but I'm back now. I've already got 51 days this year, well on my way back to a “hundee,” so I won’t have any problems.
Does a cancer scare like that make you really want to get back out there?
Yeah. It's a sort of discipline I have. If i'm going to be in this role, I should be riding a hundred days a year. It forces me to go up on days I maybe wouldn't and I never regret it. I love to tally them up.
Where do you like to ride most?
I like Stowe, my home mountain in Vermont. If my favorite mountain was somewhere else, I'd probably be living there. The scene in Stowe is great. It gets cold at times but when it's on, it's so good. And living there, you get all the good days. It's all about tree riding. When I moved up from Southern Vermont 20 years ago, people weren't in the trees as much. There was some backcountry stuff happening, but it was more abandoned ski areas and hiking trails and stuff. It just wasn't as prevalent as it is in Stowe. I think Stowe definitely led the way in tree riding, at least in the Northeast.
You mentioned backcountry riding, which is booming. How are you at Burton taking that and running with it?
Well, we're really supporting the splitboard thing. It's a Spark binding with this custom puck plate system that we're co-labeling with Voile and you don't have to deal with the pin anymore, which is pretty insane. We've been experimenting with the boards for a while now and we have it pretty dialed with flex and stuff.
What have you noticed about splitboard technology in the past few years that you wanted to change?
Just to get really good shapes and team rider feedback. For a while, people were making splitboards without focusing on details like flex patterns and dual channels and quicker transition times.
It's exciting that splitboards are allowing snowboarders to go on hut trips with skiers and keep up. What's the biggest thing that still needs to be improved?
I think the biggest thing is speed of transition, which we've gotten to under a minute. Skiers have never liked to wait for boarders. We're going to start offering this new system on a limited basis. I don't even know if we even have a name for it yet. It's so much faster without the pin; it's a little lighter, too. Spark is making the bindings and we're making the boards and pucks. It's so simple.
As people are venturing out into the backcountry more, what kind of role is Burton taking in avalanche safety?
That's a tough one. It's a huge responsibility of ours. I think that kids are way more hip to it now than even just a few years ago. We have team riders doing avi refresher courses every fall and that never used to happen. I think what we're mainly doing is putting out literature in hang ties on our products, but I guess we could always do more. There's nothing like saving a life, right?