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How Vermont Shaped Snowboarding

A Note from the Museum: This exhibit was put together by Burton for the Museum's Grand Opening in 2002. A new historical exhibit about the development and growth of snowboarding will be coming in 2012. This site will be updated with that information when it is complete. The Museum is developing and researching this exhibit now; contributions of stories, memorabilia, and artifacts are welcome. We ask for your patience as we work on an exhibit that tells the history of the sport.

How Vermont Shaped SnowboardingFrom the beginning, snowboarding has been shaped by Vermont and Vermonters.  The varied and technical terrain, unpredictable winters, and rural setting have attracted and challenged the pioneers of the sport.  Meeting these challenges readied snowboarding for worldwide accessibility and eventually, success.

Jake Burton came to Vermont determined to make a living from his passion for surfing on snow. In 1977 in a barn in South Londonderry, he founded what would become the world's largest snowboard company. Other early pioneers tackled the problem elsewhere, like Dimitri Milovich in Utah.

Jake's early snowboard development took a critical turn, that is, his boards could turn. I had to figure out how to make a snowboard work on hard snow, Jake says, (with a laugh). He had an advantage over people like Dimitri. Boards that could work in Vermont could work everywhere.

Burton, the world's largest snowboard company has always been right in Vermont. Says Jake, Being in Vermont has the advantage of giving us perspective on the sport. We're removed from a lot of the hype. A lot of companies based in Southern California or Europe don't take a global approach to the sport.

How Vermont Shaped SnowboardingStratton Mountain Resort was not only the first to allow, but also it opened the first snowboarding school attracting national attention and clearing the way for nationwide acceptance. Snowboarding drew a younger audience, and being within driving distance to major urban centers gave Vermont good reason to respect snowboard customers. This respect set a national standard.

Sadly, one Vermont resort remains close-minded to snowboarding; Mad River Glen does not allow snowboards. Many snowboarders view this as bigotry. There is no data to show that snowboards have any physical impact on resort terrain different from skiing.

Snowboarders now account for over 30% of attendance at resorts, more than making up for the major decline in skiing attendance over the last 20 years. But in the beginning, not all resorts immediately welcomed snowboarding. To compete for revenue, resorts gradually developed ways to attract riders.

The halfpipe, a terrain feature borrowed from skateboarding, took shape in Vermont at Stratton, and later Killington, Okemo, and Mt. Snow.  Mechanized halfpipe tools like the Pipe Dragon and Bombardier HPG were developed in Vermont. Vermont snow not only makes for good halfpipe construction, but poor Vermont snow makes halfpipes a major attraction many days.

The 25th US Open Snowboarding Championships held in March 2002 at Stratton Mountain marked a quarter century of the most prestigious event in the sport, and Vermont's leadership in snowboarding competition.

How Vermont Shaped SnowboardingA truly open event (theoretically anyone can enter and win), the Open pioneered competition formats, the Super Pipe (later used in the Olympics), and equal prize money for men and women.  Many riders continue to call the Open bigger than the Olympics.

Other events, like Stimilon's (the first snowboard park design agency which was founded in Vermont) big air series, the Brooklyn Vermont events, and the occasional ESPN Winter X Games have also shaped the sport from within Vermont.

Burton innovated the concept of fine art on equipment: snowboard graphics. As Burton has grown, it has created an opportunity for Vermont artists who would have had a hard time getting global exposure of their work.

Burton also pioneered deep side cuts (the arc of the sides of the board) to turn on hardpack. The profiled flex (the change in thickness/stiffness down the length of the board) maintains edge pressure in turns. Hi-backs, the control surface on bindings that enables heelside (downhill-facing) turns on hard snow, originated in New England and first went into production in Vermont.

There are more pro riders from Vermont than can be listed here. One of the most frequently asked questions of snowboarders Ross Powers, from South Londonderry, and Kelly Clark, from Dover, after their gold medal wins in the 2002 Winter Olympics, was how come both winners came from Vermont?

The answer is obvious if you've been following the story of this exhibit. Vermont is a tough place to succeed as a snowboarder, but if you do, you'll have an advantage everywhere you go. Hard snow and pioneers like Jake Burton shaped the equipment.  A dedicated base of riders and open-minded resorts created access. Leaders in snow making and shaping created the best man-made terrain, which combined with tough conditions and technical slopes challenged riders to new levels. World class competitions trained the riders.  Struggling media and artists contributed to the exposure of these riders. It's no coincidence that the Olympic halfpipe was dominated by Vermonters.