Measuring 51 inches long and weighing just under six pounds, the 1979 Burton Backhill was outfitted with twin aluminum alloy fins and included a removable “power leash.”Photo Credit : courtesy of Burton Snowboards
Jake Burton Carpenter might not have invented the snowboard, but a compelling case can be made that he created snowboarding.
In 1977, not long after earning an economics degree from New York University, Carpenter moved to Londonderry, Vermont. By that time, he had already started tinkering around with a fun alternative to skiing. Like several other innovators at the time, he was inspired by the Snurfer, a kind of snow “skateboard” intended mainly for kids. He played with designs in his barn, where early snowboard prototypes were made with gear and materials often improvised from what was on hand (including, as the story goes, a scuba mask to be worn while applying polyurethane).
That same year Carpenter officially launched Burton Snowboards, which he soon relocated to Manchester, Vermont. He and his team of five employees likely composed the world’s first snowboard factory.
At that point, snowboarding was still a fringe activity, with only a few ski areas allowing it on their slopes. Carpenter dedicated himself to changing that. The former Snow Valley in Winhall, Vermont, became the first New England ski area to welcome snowboarders. Suicide Six and Stratton soon followed suit, then Jay Peak and Stowe.
As demand for snowboards began to build, Carpenter kept refining his design. In 1979, he introduced the Burton Backhill (pictured), the first board that could support custom graphics, offered two stance options, and had a front binding that could be adjusted without tools.
By 1982, Suicide Six was hosting the National Snowboarding Championship. Three years later the event moved to Stratton Mountain and was renamed the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships. Snowboarding had officially gone mainstream.
Today, Burton is the largest snowboard brand in the world, and Carpenter and his wife, Donna, remain at the helm, dedicated ambassadors of the sport he created and the lifestyle it inspired.