VAIL, Colorado - It's nearly impossible to talk about the sport of snowboarding without mentioning Jake Burton Carpenter.
He's a pioneer - the builder of a sport that has become so much bigger than he ever imagined when he first strapped a board to his feet in the 1970s. Innovation and progression is always on his mind, as evidenced this year by the relocation of the Burton U.S. Open snowboarding championships from Stratton, Vt., to Vail.
Burton saw an opportunity to take the oldest snowboarding event in existence and make it fresh.
"It was an agonizing decision," Burton told the Vail Daily this week in Vail. "But the event had gotten to the point where it needed to progress - the Olympics have come along, the X Games - and it's a different game now."
The competition spent 30 years in Vermont, a place Burton and his family also call home. But to take the event to the next level, Burton knew it was time to make a move.
"But to move it was very daunting, but when we decided we wanted to go somewhere else to step things up, Vail was just such a natural choice," he said. "There's great history here - a great history with snowboarding, a great history with running events. And the town and the resort have been incredibly supportive, and (Ski and Snowboard Club Vail), everybody's chipped in and we're feeling so good about the decision."
Burton has been snowboarding in Vail regularly since the 1990s and has always felt a warm welcome - not just personally, but for the sport of snowboarding in general - from Vail.
"It's just a place that has appreciated the sport for what it was and supported it, and you can feel that in this event," Burton said.
With his 60th birthday next year, Burton still looks like that cool snowboarder guy - like a young, hip dad who kids want to hang out with. He's friendly and laid back - he's almost exactly the way you might expect the founder of snowboarding to be.
"I think people that snowboard, and the sport, it's about fun," Burton said. "And people get that, you know. Snowboarders don't take themselves too seriously, and in a really healthy way."
When Burton stops and thinks about what the sport has become, you can see how happy it makes him. You can see that he looks back on what he has done for the sport and doesn't have a single regret.
"I can't claim that I had any idea how big things would get, but I did see a sport there and dedicated my life to it and stuck with it through some very challenging times early on, and I'm definitely proud of that," he said.
He's proud of the U.S. Open, too, because it's history is just as rich as the sport's. When the competition began, there were riders who were passionate about snowboarding and they just wanted to see who was the best.
"That was sort of the spirit of it," Burton said. "An event put on by snowboarders, for snowboarders, and I think it's maintained that. ... (The U.S. Open) just continues to progress the sport, and I think it's in a whole new chapter now, and it's great. It's in a very good place - this is a good spot for it to be."
Burton had already gotten in four or five days on Vail Mountain by Thursday, and said he planned to get several more. He rides about 100 days a season and said he already has 74 or 75 this winter. He talks about "a little bout with cancer" he had last year as if it was no big deal because that's just the kind of guy Burton is.
He has a demeanor that just makes you feel instantly comfortable. He doesn't act like he's the creator of a snowboarding brand that has practically become an empire with locations around the world - he just seems like a regular guy.
And with a new home for the Burton U.S. Open in Vail, you can expect to see him in Vail around this time every year. You just might catch him riding frontside trees, or perhaps a run down the Minturn Mile.
"I love to finish the day with a run down the mile," Burton said. "We did it yesterday. I've always been a fan of that."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.