Book Review: Snowboarding in Southern Vermont
The book “Snowboarding in Southern Vermont: From Burton to the U.S. Open” by Brian Knight on History Press is a snapshot of the 1980s and 1990s during the early days of snowboard lore. The book is a fine encapsulation of snowboard history with an amazing collection of photos of those early days at the region’s ski areas Stratton, Bromley, Magic Mountain, and Snow Valley.
The book traces Jake Burton Carpenter’s life through Londonderry, Manchester, and Stratton Mountain, Vermont as he became the proprietor of Burton Snowboards. He shared the spotlight with a woman he met who he married, Donna Carpenter. She is cited in the book for “heavy lifting” in the early development of Burton Snowboards which was to become a significant force in the sport. Jake’s infectious enthusiasm and the lengths he went through to get Burton Snowboard started required visionary decision making and it resulted in a very impactful company in the snowsports world.
There are hundreds of names that are weaved into the Southern Vermont story such as Paul Johnston the Stratton mountain manager, who had an open mind about snowboarding in the beginning; Lyle Blaisdell, the backhoe operator with the half pipe-carving Midas touch; and other snowboard dignitaries such as Tom Sims, Chuck Barfoot, the Hayes brothers, Neil Korn, Lindsey Jacobellis, Mark Heingartner, Craig Kelly, Dave Schmidt, Terje Haakonsen, Tricia Byrnes, Ross Powers and Shaun Palmer.
The book’s vibe of the times is also expressed with tales of epic parties and Burton homegrown spirit. The competition parties perhaps superseded the halfpipe competition as spectators at the U.S. Open experience left the event site littered with alcoholic cans and bottles and enjoyed debauchery and mayhem at “snowboarder residences” throughout the region. The parties hosted by Burton and other purveyors of every imaginable snowboard-oriented products were often topped by the Hayes’ brother infamous gatherings.
The early days were rife with teenage posse behavior both on and off the slopes and age antagonism as skiers fought back to reject the newcomers at the ski areas. The book outlines the certification concept which was a test that snowboarders took to earn the right to the slopes at Stratton. There were many nights when sneaking snowboarders walked up the ski area slopes to make some runs.
The U.S. Open was established as an institution before snowboarding got any television coverage. The time when the Olympics gobbled up snowboarding as a prime time hook for viewers was still in the distant future. During the sunrise of snowboarding, the camaraderie between participants was more important than winning the Open. But the event declined to become somewhat derogatory as the limits were continually pushed with profanity, violence, and even death when two guys snow caving in the parking lot were crushed in a very sad mishap.
The road to the Olympics was very bumpy for snowboarders coming out of Southern Vermont, Jake Carpenter called the Nagano Olympics, which was the first of the quadrennial competitions to feature snowboarding “kind of a disaster.” The U.S. Open at Stratton grew each year and eventually mainstreamed with the elimination of alcohol, superior rider athleticism, and a send-off to Stratton’s Sun Bowl so it was not in the main area.
Southern Vermont in the late 80s may have been the epicenter of snowboard culture and the U.S. Open was the crown jewel of snowboard contests. By 2012, it had run its course and it was the end of the era, so the event was moved to Vail, Colorado. The book states “The Vermont brand can launch a business but rarely can sustain it.” For years, coverage of snowboarding was invariably about the jargon, the fashion, and the rebelliousness rather than the joy of floating in powder, dodging trees after a snowstorm, or twisting in the air. “Snowboarding in Southern Vermont” is a quick read that establishes the record of snowboarding’s early days there and we should be thankful that this record is now public for all.