From the day I incorporated Burton in Vermont over 30 years ago, I have been a passionate snowboarder. Donna and I, along with hundreds of the finest employees, have relentlessly pursued the mission of developing the best snowboarding equipment and clothing in the world, from right here in Vermont. For the past three decades, top international newspapers, television shows and magazines have featured countless stories on how Burton leads this global industry from one of the smallest states in the country.
At Burton, one of our objectives is to be the market leader in every snowboarding product category in every country. This is not easy, but we do pretty well. We are the market leaders throughout North America, Europe and Japan. We make products for all genders and ages so people can have as much fun as possible on the mountain. In fact, our women’s and children’s lines are two of our fastest growing segments.
We also make boards for 18-year-old guys. This age group is the foundation of snowboarding, and we wouldn’t be here today without them. Thirty years ago, they were the ones who were willing to buy our boards out of a box, hike up the mountain and teach themselves how to ride it, and I owe everything to them. A very important factor to this crew is that what they are riding and wearing is something their parents would never be caught dead in. It was like that when I was 18, and it’s like that now. That’s why we turn to our young pro riders and let them drive the product development process at Burton - because they get it. They live and breathe the snowboarding lifestyle, and we back their input. The fact that these boards don’t appeal to some people is not a surprise. The important thing is that the vast majority of young, core riders appreciates the graphics and does not take them so seriously or perceive them as a threat to society. Just look at the blog comments on Transworld Business’ website (business.transworld.net) and you’ll see what snowboarders think about this uproar.
Do these boards lead to destructive behavior? I don’t think so, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. The two professional snowboarders who chose the Love graphics are proof of that. Donna and I (and two of our three sons: ages 15 and 12) spent two days snowboarding in the New Zealand backcountry with the two pro riders who selected the graphics for the Love board. If my two boys grow up to be as considerate and gentlemanly as these two riders, I will consider myself blessed. They would make any parent proud.
While I do understand that some people’s feelings are heartfelt, the local reaction to these graphics has been hurtful and out-of-line. An editorial column in our local paper, The Stowe Reporter, went so far as to personally attack Donna and incite the destruction of personal property by spray painting snowboards. I’m fairly confident that if I ever advocated ‘spray painting people’s skis’, I would be facing charges and rightfully so, as vandalizing other people’s property is against the law. Thankfully, one week later, the paper’s editor stated that the attacks on us and our company had become a ‘witch hunt.’ It’s interesting to note that in Europe, the only press coverage these graphics have received focuses on the extreme reaction in Vermont to this issue. The coverage is not flattering to our state and includes quotes such as, “As the USA tries to make the world believe that they want to turn the page on ultra-conservatism, we’re laughing at the ridiculous attitude in which the country of freedom is still sinking.”
One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that Burton contributes plenty to this state. Here are some of the fruits of our efforts:
* Because of Burton, Vermont is widely considered the birthplace of snowboarding, a sport where hundreds of thousands of kids and adults are out doing something healthy and challenging at mountains here in Vermont and around the world.
* Burton employs over 500 people in the state of Vermont. We pay these employees over $28 million per year.
* Burton draws young, creative people from all over the world to work in Vermont, a state that has a serious aging problem.
* Through its business travels alone, Burton books thousands of plane tickets in and out of Burlington’s airport and spends hundreds of thousands on Vermont hotels every year.
* Burton pays over $6 million in state and local taxes annually.
* Burton’s US Open Snowboarding Championships in Stratton brings in millions of dollars to the state. We’re also very proud that it was the first snowboarding competition to offer equal prize money to women and men.
* Burton is the only winter sports company that has remained committed to staying in Vermont. Rossignol, Dynastar, Nordica, Tubbs, CB Sport and Line have all left.
* Donna has done a tremendous amount of work for women, including manning the phone lines for ‘Women Helping Battered Women’, donating her time and money to countless women’s organizations and heading up the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Burton.
* The Chill Foundation (also based in Burlington), which we founded, has taught over 14,500 inner-city, at-risk kids to snowboard since its inception.
* We funded, built and operate The Swimming Hole, a non-profit, community health facility in our hometown of Stowe.
The only reason we have been able to make these generous contributions is because Burton products are a success in every segment of this very competitive market. If we stop listening to our core riders and remove edgy graphics from the market, we can forget about all of the above because we would never succeed. Honestly, I would rather relocate the company to another state than compromise our commitment to listen to core snowboarders.
That said, I think it’s time to move on. Not from Vermont, which is our home and the place we love, but for all of us Vermonters to move on from this divisive issue.