Aspen’s Davenport, Bleiler react to death of snowboarding icon Jake Carpenter

Jake Burton, left, poses with snowboarder Kelly Clark following her final run through the Buttermilk superpipe at X Games Aspen 2019. Burton, one of the snowboarding industry's most iconic names, died Wednesday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Jake Burton Carpenter shaped snowboarding into what it is today, and, says Aspen skiing icon Chris Davenport, he saved the ski industry by showing it what it could become.

One of the most influential people in the snowsports world, Carpenter died Wednesday night due to complications from his ongoing bout with testicular cancer. He was 65.

“Jake’s whole vision was to create products to allow people to set themselves free in the mountains,” Davenport said Thursday. “In the late ’80s and more in the early ’90s, skiing itself needed a serious kick in the ass. The sport was stale. I won’t say dead, but we owe Jake Carpenter a gigantic debt of gratitude for jumpstarting the ski industry.”

Carpenter, the man behind Burton Snowboards, was the guiding light for the ski and snowboard industry during that time. If anyone can be credited for making the sports fun and hip and bringing up the next generation, it was Carpenter.

“Throughout snowboarding history there has been a common thread, and one of them is Burton,” Aspen snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler said. “Jake was a luminary in a sport and an industry where the spirit of it has always been innovative. And for him to innovate within that sport itself, it just shows a lot about who he was as a human being. It’s definitely a great loss for snowboarding.”

Bleiler, a four-time X Games Aspen gold medalist in the halfpipe and 2006 Olympic silver medalist, was never a Burton rider, but had a front-row seat throughout most of her career to the Burton brand.

Davenport’s connection to the Carpenter family runs deep. His wife, Jesse, grew up as neighbors to Jake and his wife, Donna, in Stowe, Vermont.

The Davenports knew the family well, and attended their annual fall party in Vermont more often than not. Despite being a professional skier, Chris Davenport’s admiration for the Carpenters and what they built matches that of any snowboarder.

“The thing that really resonates with me about Jake is he stayed so true to the passion of riding the mountains,” Davenport said. “Regardless of skiing or snowboarding, he loved being out there and he loved creating products that made people happy.”

Carpenter founded Burton Snowboards in 1977. While Sherman Poppen is credited with inventing the snowboard — he made the “Snurfer” in the 1960s — it was Carpenter who is largely credited with taking the sport forward.

Only a few days ago, Miah Wheeler stumbled across a relatively unspoiled ’80s-era Burton Performer Elite snowboard in a Carbondale store. The longtime snowboard program director for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, Wheeler, whose go-to board is a modern Burton, had to scoop it up.

Now AVSC’s development director, Wheeler was born in 1976 and fondly remembers Carpenter’s constant push to make snowboarding into the sport it is today.

“He was a snowboarder through and through,” Wheeler said. “Snowboarding and skateboarding certainly have that anarchic feel to it. When FIS was pushing to get snowboarding into the Olympics, it felt like they were asking us to change our identity and who we really were. He really pushed back against that.”

Carpenter also made the push to get snowboarding into the ski resorts. Even Aspen Mountain once scoffed at the idea of allowing snowboarders on its chairlifts, with Aspen Highlands being among the first to open its runs to both, prior to being acquired by Aspen Skiing Co.

Without Carpenter and his passion, snowboarding — and possibly skiing — may not have survived into this century.

“He made his money and he made his impact with a snowboard company, but his legacy is so much greater than that. He propelled the ski industry,” Davenport said. “He’s one of the real icons who is a total legend. He basically built a sport from scratch. How do you get any bigger than that?”