Snowboarding invented by Jake Burton … ah, just kidding. Jake didn't invent it, he just started the company in '77 and produced the Backhill – a narrow board with single strap bindings and a rope and handle attached to the nose. Experimentations with surfboard construction using foam cores and fiberglass eventually gave way to wood. Life on shred begins.
With furniture steam bending used for shape, and the introduction of aluminum fins the Burton Board™ is touted to ride in packed snow, slush, bumps and “of course, powder.” May or may not have been the first year riding in moguls was initially detested by riders. In the brochure Jake claims that snow surfing will be the most fun you’ve ever had on snow. This was later validated.
For the first time in Burton Snowboard history a good method gave people something to admire outside of the method itself – base graphics make their way to the first production boards. The BB1 and the BB2, or Backhill and Backyard, set the tone for multiple models with the Backhill offering regular and goofy stances and tool free binding adjustments.
"While most anyone will agree that surfing an overhead wave is the greatest sensation they have experienced, the feeling of snow surfing down a good sized hill after a fresh snowfall is not far behind. Snow surfing is an activity that has been around for almost 15 years, but not until recently could it be considered more than a fun pastime to do once or twice a winter" – Burton Catalog, 1980. Well said.
From the beginning, pow slashes have been noted as snow surfing's finest ride. This season the new wider shapes and tapers of the Backhill and Backyard make them even sweeter, not to mention a urethane base for added speed. Production moves from Londonderry to Jake's home in Manchester, Vermont. Find one of these hand-finished boards and you will likely find Jake's initials indicating approved craftsmanship.
It’s on. Vermont’s Suicide Six is the first resort to allow snowboarding and hosts the National Snowboarding Championships – to become known as the US Open. Jake and the Burton crew compete with Doug Bouton (2nd ever member of the Burton team, for history buffs) taking home the big trophy. Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Burton boards are introduced to Japan.
There was a time when snowboarders were required to pass a certification test before resorts would allow lift access. Allowance was nice, but it was a dark time as new skiers were allowed to pillage at will while riders were registered and marked. In an interesting twist, the National Snowboarding Championship was held at Snow Valley, in Manchester, Vermont where there were no lifts – you had to hike to ride. Gear wise '83 was big: Burton releases its first boot, the Competition Shoes, and the Powdergun and Performer feature bindings with a heel strap.
No one's claiming anything here, but as far as Burton goes, '84 marks the first year the term "shred" is used in company literature to describe what you will be doing on a snowboard. A lot of words have come and gone, but the shred remains … oh wait … the word shred is still used. But from a company that introduced its first outerwear line with names like Powder Shell and Powder Pant that year, you know their head's in the right place. Andy Coghlan shreds his first wins at the US Open and special order Performers are available with steel edges and P-tex bases. Shred.
Not only did the Elite and the Performer come with buckle bindings, but the team was riding Hi-Tops, which thankfully later became hi-backs. Progression of riding and product seemed to be happening overnight. The Elite's foam core wrapped in bi-directional fiberglass and a full wrap edge was carving out a path for Burton board designs. Europe is taking notice and Burton opens the office in Innsbruck, Austria.
With the help of over 1000 shops now carrying Burton product, the introduction of boards like the Cruiser 165 and the Elite 150 is a visible success at mountains everywhere. With its new sintered P-Tex 2000 base, the Cruiser becomes the standard for hauling ass and helps Andy Coghlan rise above the now 200 riders competing at the US Open. The Hi-Top binding leaves anything prior in a trash can and the Burton Snowboard Boots start to look and ride like a snowboard boot.
Burton was practically making everything in ’87. The Woody, the Cruzer, the enormous Express 175, collapsible poles, snowshoes and a backcountry snowboard pack, two different styles of boots, patches, outerwear and the video “One Track Mind” was available on VHS and Beta. Good thing too – just two years before only 5 percent of US resorts allowed riding, by 1987, 95 percent did. And as a taste of things to come, Craig Kelly showed up at the Open and won the slalom.
Halfpipe makes it’s debut at the US Open and Burton Snowboards releases the Air. If this has to explain how the Air’s 3cm of tail kick and variable flex pattern pioneered a new era of riding, than just focus on the halfpipe thing – that probably sticks out, right? Regardless, Burton was riding high (no pun) and for the last time printed a list in the catalog of resorts that allowed snowboarding. Quite simply, almost everyone saw the light by now. And if you’ve seen the original Safaris, and the outfits on them, you know the light was pretty easy to see.
When people are hyped on a board they can't see in the catalog, good things are happening – and the Mystery Air proved just that. Burton and snowboarding were rolling – race boards, freestyle boards, plate bindings, strap bindings, bags, boots, stickers. Product development in New Zealand was starting to get earlier on-snow testing results. The new video was "Snow Rules," and based on the media presence at the US Open to watch new Burton rider Craig Kelly dominate the halfpipe and downhill, it was ruling hard.
Typically riders have a video or an era that changed the way they approached snowboarding. If you find some heads who were riding in 1990, Burton’s “Chill” and the team the company had on snow will likely be that catalyst. It wasn’t just a time of eye candy and all-stars though. The Kelly Mystery Air gets quadratic sidecuts and balanced stances. The Freestyle binding has forward lean adjustment for its new injection molded hi-back, and if none of this is really doing it for you, know that freestyle riding was starting to open up. Just ask Terje, he made his first appearance at the US Open with a Micro Air in 1990.
When you stop and think about it, what makes the boned-out grabs and tweaks riders were throwing in the early 90s so damn impressive is that they were doing all of this with dual positive angle stances. Even as Burton released its cant binding options in 1991, the diagram shows that ancient knees together form as a resulting benefit. You tend to forget euro-carving was a legitimate product series term – and it was still raging in 1991, and Burton’s alpine boards were now all asymmetric designs. There were other things going on, but this is a decent time to pay tribute to the downhill racing side of things … if you understand what we’re getting at.
In 1992, Jake was asked in an interview: At this point, what is your ultimate goal in life? His response: TO MAKE THE BEST SNOWBOARDING EQUIPMENT IN THE WORLD. TO MAKE THE BEST SNOWBOARDING EQUIPMENT IN THE WORLD. TO MAKE THE BEST SNOWBOARDING EQUIPMENT IN THE WORLD. TO MAKE THE BEST SNOWBOARDING EQUIPMENT IN THE WORLD. TO MAKE THE BEST SNOWBOARDING EQUIPMENT IN THE WORLD. TO MAKE THE BEST SNOWBOARDING EQUIPMENT IN THE WORLD. TO MAKE THE BEST SNOWBOARDING EQUIPMENT IN THE WORLD. Seriously, he said it seven times. Ask him today and chances are he'll say it again, but maybe just once or twice. Maybe he said it so many times because Burton moved its operations to Burlington and introduced Rider Responsive Flex – no more ski-based flex.
Look, you can argue this if you want, but Kurt Cobain and Nirvana brought a revolution to pop culture. So much so, not even sure it was called pop culture anymore. So it should be no surprise that the day-glo suits were gone and the Outland, Universe and Biolight outerwear collections were earth toning it down. But that’s mellow and trend heavy. In 1993 the catalog pages started with the Air series boards – also a revolution of sorts. And if that wasn’t enough, Burton introduced the 3D hole pattern and its 2,073,600 stance options.
Revolutionary designs continue… twin tip boards enter snowboarding, and are still with us today. Burton releases its true Twin and the pro models all follow suit: Terje's Haakon Air, Brushie's Brushie, and Craig's Kelly Air-Slopestyle all take on the twin shape. Actually, Craig's board was following him into the backcountry designs, but it was close enough. Speaking of close enough, Burton opens its offices in Japan to be close enough to the riders in that region of the world – not to mention some of the deepest pow. Priorities.
Maybe the Contact binding was ahead of its time. Maybe it was simply over hyped. But rest assured there are droves of riders that first saw Burton EST bindings and said, “yeah, like the baseless bindings back, in like, ’95.” Not quite the same binding, but that was the general reaction. As complex as a change that might have seemed, it was the simplest binding development that year that has lasted until today: Slap Ratchet buckles on the ankle strap. Let the comfort begin.
Burton had recently committed to its women’s line of gear. Boards with women in mind and women’s-specific boots and outerwear were already part of the line. Thanks to the shred of Shannon Dunn, Burton women got their first pro model in 1996. And while some people would insist Terje’s Balance be mentioned here as well, let’s point out instead that the Custom joined us this year. Not the Custom Flying V. Not the Custom with Squeezebox. Not even the Custom with a special graphic. Just the Custom.
On page 21 of the 1997 catalog, a nine-year old Shaun White is pictured with a line of kids product and a statement about how Burton is committed to its youth gear as much as it is anything else. Seemed to work out pretty good.
You can't talk about 1998 without pointing out snowboarding's Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan. That year Burton introduced its Learn-to-Ride gear and programs to give new riders the best chance out of the gate. Powerful combination of catalysts to the growth of snowboarding, if you think about it.
Maybe it was the millions of people worried about the impending doom of Y2K (year 2000, for anyone who can't remember or was 7 years old or something) that left the world numb to the introduction of Step-In Bindings. To make up for it, however, Burton also released the combo of Boot-to-Binding Integration, which meant computer models were being used to design perfectly contoured boot exteriors to binding hi-backs. Kind of surprising it took this long, but hey, something had to balance out the step-in thing. Speaking of balancing out, as hi-backs were now getting taller, the toe gas pedal made its first appearance.
Along the way Burton has introduced techs and features a bit less glamorous than say your Rockers and Channels of today. In 2000, wood core Engineered Grain Direction was one of those techs. The optimized lightness and strength is something riders pretty much take for granted today. What's not taken for granted is the Women's Feelgood, introduced this year and still the benchmark in the Burton women's line and probably a few other lines elsewhere.
Even if you'd never seen it, or maybe even heard of it, the launch of the BMC snowboard brought it to your attention. Named at the Burton Manufacturing Center, the BMC was the new jam – lightweight and responsive. The board carried with it a good amount of pride for those behind it, and brought a good amount of respect for those who made it shred.
With the Olympics in Salt Lake City it was a pretty good time for U.S. riders to take Gold. Burton's Kelly Clark and Ross Powers did just that. The late night interview tour was on. Snowboarding and Burton were now reaping the rewards of winter patriotism on snow. Meanwhile, on the backside of the mountain, Burton releases the Fish and the S Series Boards, which originally was a series, and not just one model.
Snowboarding was no longer on the rise - it was exploding. It's no wonder why Jake grabbed the family and took a year to travel six continents and ride on each one. You can read about it in Six, a memoir book of sorts, if you can find it. Comes with a DVD. But just because the big man was out didn't mean everything came to a halt. The T6 and its aluminum core hits the shop and the industry's first women's specific binding, the Lexa, starts the foundation of what will later be known as True Fit. Should probably vacation more often.
Well, that’s the year UnInc started, they’ll say. That was the year Burton pulled a group of progressive riders together and let them do what they want. They’d be right to say such things, but they’d be leaving out a few key elements on Burton’s year – namely Infinite Ride and Stainless Steel Edges. Seriously though, the Capstrap toe strap debuted on the Mission Greed. Bindings haven’t been the same since, corporate or uncorporated.
Let's face it, when Speed Zone Lacing hit the mountains it wasn't necessarily a concern how quickly you could boot up and knock down a few people on your dash to get first chair. The original hook, pull and tuck – or was it lock? – indeed shaved a little time from those cumbersome traditional lace interfaces, but an equal if not greater benefit was the zones rather than the speed. If you wanted to improve you speed to the liftline in '05, finding one of the first Vapors (in Japan) to lighten things up was your better option.
Burton and Northstar-at-Tahoe bring you the first Stash – an organic, literally and figuratively, designed park using natural surroundings as jibs and such. In the midst of it all is a cabin dedicated to the spirit and riding of the late Craig Kelly, the inspiration for it all. And clear across the globe, Shaun White and Hannah Teter were winning Gold at the Turin Olympics … so there was a whole new onslaught of media appearances making snowboarding a household understanding.
The funny thing is, if you asked someone at the time whether they had to guess if Audex (wearable technology) or The Channel would survive, chances are there would have been quite a few people that would have written off the Channel, debuting in an early release (formerly known as late model) Jeremy Jones.
If people were confused by the Channel in 2007, in 2008 it would all start to make sense. Rumors had been flying about a baseless binding that wasn't a baseless binding like the Contacts of '95 (visit 1995 section for reference) but something different. It was EST, an acronym for Extra Sensory Technology. The board-to-binding interface provided an infinite allowance of stance options, and the sensation of natural board flex under your feet was … well … what's that phrase of once you try something you never go back? Same thing.
Camber will never be the same. Either it got reversed (V-Rocker), or it got Springloaded (S-Rocker) and in a few cases went limp (flat P-Rocker). The Scoop nose and tail added to the new bends and the great debate was on. Not since step-ins and strap bindings were argued over had there been so much internal strife with the snowboarding community. Luckily snowboarding remained fun either way.
Just when you thought it was as easy as camber or rocker, the Flying V enters the Springloaded mix and starts indoctrinating all kinds of followers. Some Burton pros even drop into competition halfpipes with them. It seemed like the world could agree on something again. If there was something the world seemed to agree on, it was Shaun White’s jaw dropping second run and victory lap in the Vancouver Olympics. Although, Shaun’s board is not Flying V, just to be clear. Just like the old days Jake and Donna are back running the company, but they never really left - unless you count the six continent trip.
Sure the Nug is surrounded with all kinds of innuendo, but it really is true what Burton says: one hit and you’re hooked. The technology that allows the board to ride 8-10 cm shorter is impressive to say the least. Not everyone’s convinced, but the glory is not everyone has to be. If you go to the 1978 section you’ll see that Jake was claiming that snowboarding would be the most fun you’ve ever had on snow. Nug, Re:Flex bindings, Flying V, Camber, hell, even Step-Ins … doesn’t really matter. Shit’s still fun.
Look, it’s no secret that $1,500 snowboards don’t fly off the shelves. That’s why Burton doesn’t make tens of thousands of them. A company doesn’t turn 35 by being stupid. It does by being innovative. The release and design of the Mystery coincided with the opening of Craig’s – a new R&D facility in Burlington dedicated to Burton’s most influential rider, and engineer. The Mystery is not a price tag as much as it is a statement of what can be done. And that was Craig’s deal – do what you know can be done. No one said you have to own one, just like no one should say stop thinking.
After a much-ballyhooed decision to move the US Open from its Vermont home to Vail, Colorado, anticipation was at a record high. The week of the event was met with deep pow, which isn't really all that great for competition, but just fine for riding. And all the sudden it just made sense. Likewise for 2013, Burton released the Parkitect featuring an asymmetrical core profile to go along with an asymmetrical shape. It was one of those "computer-got-us-this-far-but-what-happens-if-the-core-lines-up-with-a-duck-stance" kind of things. And after people started riding it, it equally just made sense.
There was a moment when Burton nearly abandoned the idea of splitboards. The S-Series had become a dated beast of a board and to be perfectly honest, the company probably sold more to its employees and friends of employees than anyone else. But the timing was perfect for a company that digs on R&D and had a new R&D facility fully tuned. So in 2014 there were four available in the line, including the Anti-Social – Burton’s first women’s-specific splitboard. The backcountry, pack-it-in-pack-it-out set is an organized and vocal one, and sometimes women even more so. The result isn’t just new boards though, it’s the perpetual reminder that when something gets stale, it might just need some fresh spice.