The Early Days
While there are numerous arguments as to who actually created the first snowboard, not many disagree that it was Jake Burton Carpenter who truly developed and pioneered the sport on a national and global level. Starting manufacturing in 1977, Jake and his company merely capitalized on the idea of sliding on snow for entertainment. Many inventors throughout the years have developed versions of the modern day snowboard. In 1926 Howard J. Ferris patented a stand up sled named the Skeeboggan. Others followed in his footsteps and most notably Sherman Poppen patented the Snurfer in 1965. He later partnered with Brunswick (yes the bowling company) to market his product. They decided to distribute the Snurfers to thousands of hardware stores throughout the country. While Sherm sold over half a million Snurfers, he never fully realized the Snurfer's true potential. Had Brunswick distributed Snurfers to sporting goods stores, who knows how snowboarding history would be written. Believe it or not the Harvard business school used Sherm's Snurfer misfortune to teach what not to do.
It is said Jake Burton Carpenter was inspired by the Snurfers he rode as a teenager. Like many innovators Jake never seemed satisfied; always trying to improve on his designs. All through high school and college he tinkered with his inventions and finally after quitting his job at a Manhattan investment bank in 1977, he got a break that ultimately founded Burton Snowboards; an inheritance from his grandmother of $20,000. As for the reasons he quit..."I wasn't loving it," he recalled "But I got to talk to the entrepreneurs whose businesses we were selling. I was amazed that they didn't intimidate me. I remember … thinking, 'This isn't any tougher than the lawn-mowing business I started in high school.'"
Jake, now 23 years old, with his degree in economics and his newly acquired bank roll, moved to Stratton Mountain, Vermont to work nights as a bartender and days on his snowboards. 100+ designs were created from wood and various laminated materials before he settled on a marketable product. Only problem, it was now summer and no one wanted to buy. Jake's perseverance is what saved his dream of not only creating a truly superior product, but also inventing the sport in the first place.
The following winter he took a hiatus in Europe to ride the glaciers of Austria. His head now cleared, he returned with an increased vigor that seemingly never slowed. He spent the winter season of 1978-79 peddling his product at various trade shows all throughout the country. Jake recalled, "I was afraid to go to the bathroom, I thought if I did, I might miss my only customer." Throughout the winter he sold over 300 boards, attributed to his new marketing campaign (which by the way included a 'mail-order' department whose telephone rang in Jake's bedroom). In the end he was still in the red, spending more money than he was taking in. Never one to rest Jake took it to the next level and decided to gain product awareness by winning a national Snurfer competition. After convincing race directors to allow him to use his own board in an 'open division', Jake took the crown and turned the corner for his struggling business. After seeing Jake dominate the competition not one rider wanted to compete ever again with their $10 Snurfers (sorry Sherm).
1980's and Beyond
Jake limped along throughout the 1979-80 winter season with just over 700 boards sold. Although this was double his previous years sales, he was still operating in the red in 1981 with financial losses adding up to $130,000. Jake was not alone in his struggles to grow the sport and he along with others finally pushed the envelope with advances in technology that spurred the soon to be, fastest growing sport in the country. By 1984 Jake with his newly developed metal edge snowboards broke $1,000,000 in sales finally realizing the profit he deserved. It is noted to vintage Burton snowboard collectors that Jake changed his name in 1984 from Jake Burton Carpenter to simply Jake Burton to avoid confusion.
The golden break began at Vermont's Stratton ski resort, who became the first in the country to allow snowboarders to ride its slopes (thanks to Burton's efforts). Slowly by surly other resorts followed suit. In 1985, 93% of the ski areas in the U.S. had banned snowboarding, by 1995 over 90% not only allowed it but catered to snowboarders with specific marketing campaigns aimed at gaining their business.
Jake's momentum increased yet again with the opening of a manufacturing plant in Innsbruck Austria in 1985. From there on out sales rose on an exponential level realizing over 100,000 snowboarders by 1987.
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Article by © Vintage Winter