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As winter returns, Vail remembers a true legend of snow sports: Jake Burton

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November 21, 2019, 12:28 pm

It’s fitting that winter returned to the Vail Valley on the day news broke that snowboarding giant Jake Burton, who called Vail his home away from his primary home of Stowe, Vt., died at the age of 65. Below, I’ve reposted a story I did on Burton, his connection to Vail and how he made snowboarding a mainstream sport in Colorado and around the world.

Jake Burton
Jake Burton

Burton moved the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships to Vail for the 2013 season, but he had been coming to Vail and owned a home here for a couple of decades before that, and in particular loved to ride the Minturn Mile off the backside of Vail Mountain into Minturn.

“It is with a heavy heart that we share that Burton founder Jake Burton Carpenter passed away peacefully last night surrounded by loved ones as a result of complications from recurring cancer,” Burton Snowboards tweeted Thursday. “He was the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we love.”

See my story on Burton below for more on the life of a remarkable man who passed way too soon.

And celebrate his life with the return of winter and an early opening Saturday for Beaver Creek as a storm deposited three inches at Vail overnight and will likely drop a few more before moving on Friday. Here’s the full schedule of events kicking off winter at the Beav’. And apparently a couple of more storms are on the radar for next week.

“The first part of the current storm dropped 2-10 inches on Wednesday and Wednesday night. The second part of the storm should deliver another 2-10 inches from Thursday through Friday, favoring the southern mountains but not completely ignoring the central and northern mountains either,” Opensnow.com meteorologist Joel Gratz wrote Thursday. “Then we’ll see dry weather during the weekend. Next week, expect two storms with one early in the week and the other around Thanksgiving.”

Now here’s that promised re-post of a story I did on Burton back in 2014:

Jake Burton fought long and hard for snowboarding’s mainstream, Olympic credibility

Colorado has long been a breeding ground for Winter Olympians, producing medalists and contenders in virtually every sport. But credit Jake Burton with fighting for the mainstream acceptance that led to the United States claiming nearly a third of all the medals ever awarded in Olympic snowboarding since 1998.

The founder and CEO of Burton Snowboards attended the University of Colorado for a few years before founding a shop, building his own boards by hand and taking part in the first ever snowboard competition in 1981 at Ski Cooper, near Leadville.

Burton lobbied the ski industry throughout the ’80s to allow snowboarding on ski mountains, helping to convince Breckenridge to break the barrier in the mid-’80s and ultimately launching the massive wave of popularity in the ’90s that led to the International Olympic Committee accepting snowboarding at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

“As far as Colorado goes, the state has a long history of hosting snowboard events,” said Burton, who’s been riding at Vail for two decades. “If you look back as early as 1981, there was the King of the Mountain competition at Ski Cooper, near Leadville. And in the mid-’80s, the World Snowboarding Championships took place in Colorado. So the sport has deep roots in Colorado.”

Those roots have grown into a massive snowboard oak, with branches of the sport now spreading from Breckenridge — site this week’s Olympic-qualifying and World Cup Grand Prix event relocated from Northstar — to Aspen, home of 2006 halfpipe silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler and 2002 parallel giant slalom bronze medalist Chris Klug. And, of course, there’s the Winter X Games.

Now Burton, a Vermont native, has moved the U.S. Snowboarding Open to Vail after 30 years at his home mountain of Stratton.

“Progression is a huge part of snowboarding and Burton,” said Burton, a 2010 inductee into the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame. “Just think if we hadn’t pushed to progress product development or convinced resorts to accept snowboarding; we’d all still be riding Backhills with Sorel boots on golf courses.”

Olympic snowboarding has progressed from giant slalom and halfpipe at Nagano to parellel giant slalom, parallel slalom, halfpipe, snowboard cross and slopestyle at Sochi, Russia, in 2014. Slopestyle and halfpipe riders have been vying for Olympic berths this weekend at Copper — the first of four Grand Prix qualifying events.

Two-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark (2002 halfpipe gold and 2010 halfpipe bronze) said Colorado now hosts two of the three most prestigious events in her sport.

“The Olympics are No. 1,” said Clark, a Vermont native and Burton-sponsored rider well on her way to qualifying for her fourth Olympics. “There are three events as a professional snowboarder that if you win you can call yourself pretty established as a professional, and those are, in order, the Olympics, the X Games and the U.S. Open.”

American women have won half of the 12 Olympic medals ever awarded in halfpipe, but it was Shannon Dunn (now Dunn-Downing) who won the first ever U.S. women’s halfpipe medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano (a bronze). And Dunn-Downing, who grew up in Steamboat Springs, also won the first ever Winter X Games women’s halfpipe gold in 1997.

Now Steamboat siblings Arielle and Taylor Gold — fourth and third, respectively, at last month’s Olympic-qualifying Dew Tour event at Breckenridge — are well on their way to following in Dunn-Downing’s footsteps and adding to Steamboat’s incredible legacy of nearly 80 Olympians.

Arielle Gold is a Burton rider and an X Games gold medalist, and Taylor Gold was on an all-American podium at Breck that included Californians Greg Bretz and Shaun White — the two-time defending Olympic halfpipe gold medalist who lost a head-to-head final at Breck for the first in four years of competition.

White, a Burton and Vail Resorts rider, is the only American going for Olympic gold in both halfpipe and slopesstyle, although his ankle has been giving him problems so far this season. Gold was just happy to be in such illustrious company.

“I’m frickin’ stoked for myself and for the rookie team overall,” Gold said. “I’m stoked that the rookies can represent. I’m really stoked for the entire U.S. team. Nobody is really expecting a whole lot from me, so I can focus on my riding and not on the pressure.”

American men have won eight of the 12 Olympic halfpipe medals ever awarded, including the last three gold medals, and Americans in general have won 19 of the 60 Olympic snowboarding medals awarded since 98. And they can all trace their success, to one degree or another, to the pioneering efforts of Jake Burton.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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