Jake Burton rides on in spirit at Burton US Open in Vail
Snowboarding pioneer's legacy lives on in Vail and beyond
The Burton US Open 2020 checked all the boxes we’ve come to expect from this event: exciting competition, fun concerts and a chance for snowboarders of all ages and skill levels to mingle with the pros during a week that never disappoints.
Nonetheless, one somber note remained present throughout the week. The passing of Jake Burton Carpenter, Burton’s founder and a true snowboarding pioneer, in November was not only present in our hearts and minds, it was etched on flags and posters, stickered on boards as well as helmets and mentioned in just about every interview, announcement and conversation throughout the week.
If any visitors did not know the story of Jake Burton Carpenter before showing up in Vail, they sure knew it before they left. The event, its sponsors and its host, Vail Mountain, all did a beautiful job of making sure of that.
Snowboarders get early start to Ride for Jake
Hundreds of riders gathered early Friday morning before the lifts opened to the public to participate in the Ride for Jake, where they rode up Gondola One to ride down Jake’s Stash — a trail that Vail Mountain dedicated specifically for the event.
Shortly before dropping in, Burton CEO John Lacy and pro snowboarder Jack Mitrani got on the megaphone to share celebrations of life, snowboarding and Jake.
“This meant the world to him, to come to Vail and see everybody and celebrate a sport that he just continued to pioneer and push through,” Lacy said.
“We’re here to celebrate what he brings and to see this community make it happen,” Lacy said. “We have a responsibility to keep snowboarding alive and well, and he left it in our hands.”
“If there’s one thing that he taught me it’s just to be present in every situation and live life to the absolute fullest,” Mitrani told the group. “He gave us all the gift of snowboarding and this beautiful family. Just look around at this family that Jake and Donna have cultivated. We’re so lucky to have each other.”
As the herd of snowboarders made their way down the mountain, they were both led and followed by flag-bearers waving the “Ride on Jake” mantra that was an underlying theme throughout the week.
In the middle of Saturday’s halfpipe finals, dozens of snowboarders poached the halfpipe in between runs — a fitting tribute to Jake. Yuto Totsuka, the halfpipe winner, said through a translator that he was in the middle of the poach and that it’s a memory he will never forget.
Ride on Jake Snowboarding Exhibit
While the Burton US Open’s competitions and festivities were concentrated mostly around Golden Peak and the main village, remembrances of Jake were on display across the mountain, reaching to its opposite end in Lionshead, where the Burton retail shop held the Ride On Jake Snowboard Exhibit.
The exhibit featured “iconic boards in Jake’s personal collection,” including classic shapes, some experimental models that didn’t see much production, all the way to modern models which drew inspiration from Burton’s history.
Memoirs of Jake Burton behind-the-scenes
Back in the media room, a poster displayed near the results table asks everyone to consider some questions about snowboarding and Jake. I’m going to try my best at these.
Describe the impact that snowboarding has had on your life:
Snowboarding is more than a hobby or even a passion; it’s a culture that has been particularly good to me. Some of my life’s best decisions are inextricably linked to snowboarding. It connected me to the mountains, inspired me to explore further and pushed me to seek adventure wherever it may be found.
Not only can snowboarding bring out the kid in me, it also helped guide my quest into adulthood. I may have never competed or had any breakthrough video parts, but I’ve still been able to build a fulfilling career and lifestyle that revolves around the sport. Fun fact: Snowboarding is how I got my first 401(k).
I grew up on the coast, but these mountains are my home. I have snowboarding, and Jake, to thank for that.
What do you think your life would be like without snowboarding?
Probably not as cool as this one.
Do you have a favorite memory of Jake at the US Open?
Jake was a legend who touched the lives of countless people, including many he never even met. I must confess that I am one of those people. So, I sought references from Red Gerard, Anna Gasser and Mark McMorris, who all knew him pretty well. All three had great memories to share.
“The most mandatory thing he would say to us is to have a good time and don’t let the contest sidetrack us from having a good time,” Gerard told me about Jake’s attitude in competitions, whether it be the US Open or the Olympics.
“He was just the best,” Gerard added.
“He was so open and friendly,” Gasser said as she recalled a fond memory of Jake showing the team how to use a rope swing behind his house. Gasser went outside of the competition aspect of the question to help show how personal Jake’s relationship was with all his riders. “He opened his house to all of his riders,” Gasser said.
McMorris also shared memories outside of competition, showing that the great moments the two shared went well beyond what happened in front of the judges.
“Once in a lifetime opportunities every time you were with him,” McMorris said. “I was in Switzerland with him over the summer and one day he was just like ‘dude we have to skydive’ … so like boom, we went skydiving three hours later.”
“He was a dear friend of mine and treated me like gold, I will always be appreciative of that,” he added. “To even live in an era where a guy like that was still alive and to be friends with him and to share ideas … his legacy will live on forever, so I am super thankful to be a part of that.”
If you could give Jake one message right now, what would you say?
I’m not sure anyone really gets the chance to see the full impact they’ve had on the world while still living in it. Though we’ve never met, Jake, I know that if you saw what I saw this past week, then you would have, at minimum, a glimpse of the impact you had during your time here. You’ve truly inspired us all.
Thank you Jake, and ride on.