Jake Burton Carpenter, a self-described punk who became the multimillionaire owner of Burton Snowboards, a company he founded in a Vermont barn in 1977 and that has been credited with transforming snowboarding from a renegade diversion into one of the most popular winter sports, died Nov. 20 at a hospital in Burlington, Vermont. He was 65.
The cause was complications of testicular cancer, said a company spokeswoman, Taren Dolbashian. Carpenter, who personally tested his company's products while snowboarding about 100 days per year, had first been diagnosed with the disease in 2011 and underwent successful treatment. He later survived a bout with Miller Fisher syndrome, a rare nerve disorder related to Guillain-Barré syndrome that left him temporarily paralyzed and dependent for a period on a respirator and feeding tube.
Carpenter - he often went by Jake Burton professionally - did not invent the snowboard. That distinction was widely credited to Sherm Poppen, a Michigan tinkerer who on Christmas morning in 1965 cobbled together two skis to make a winter-weather surfboard of sorts for his children.
It was called the Snurfer, a name combining "snow" and "surf," and is regarded as the modern forerunner of the snowboard. Carpenter received one when he was 14 and indulged in Snurfing on a golf course on Long Island, where he lived at the time.
"It was almost like a rodeo ride standing up. I got passionate about it right away," he told the Associated Press years later, adding that the Snurfer's "underground" vibe attracted his rebellious side. Around the same time, he was expelled from boarding school.
About a decade later, fresh out of college, Carpenter sought to marry that "underground" appeal with more sophisticated technology and marketing to turn Snurfing into a full-fledged sport. In time, he would become, in the description of Sports Illustrated magazine, "the person most responsible for transforming snowboarding into an international craze."
But for a young man who thrived on the thrills of speed, Carpenter got off to a slow start in business. While bartending at night, he worked away in a barn in Londonderry, Vermont, experimenting with various woods and plastics and other materials to make a superior snowboard.
"I did everything myself," he said, according to the book "Snowboarding" by Patricia Oudit, "sawing and gluing with my own two hands, then doing trial runs on the slope behind my place."
He ran up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. A central problem was that the renegade spirit of snowboarding that excited him and other enthusiasts proved less appealing to operators of ski resorts, who regarded snowboarders as wintertime skateboarders and did not relish their presence among the more refined skiers who frequented their slopes.
"The people who had been ski bums when they were kids wouldn't accept it, didn't want this youth culture back on their mountains," Carpenter once told an interviewer. "The process of getting snowboarding into resorts was really tough."
Selling his first snowboards for $88 apiece, Carpenter marketed his products through mail orders, at trade shows and directly to aficionados. He began to offer "snow surfing safaris," to introduce the sport to newcomers. Slowly, even begrudgingly, ski slopes began to admit snowboarders, and Carpenter's business picked up speed.
By 1984, his sales had hit $1 million, according to the volume "Battleground Sports," and by 1995, with the burgeoning popularity of snowboarding, his company was worth more than $100 million. Estimated sales in 2015 exceeded $500 million, according to the AP.
As for the sport and its practitioners, "at first, we were a nuisance, then a novelty, then a threat, and finally the savior of the ski industry," Carpenter told the Journal of Case Research in Business and Economics, which examined his business as a case study in 2010. Carpenter helped convene the 1982 snowboarding competition that grew into the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championship. In 1998, at the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, snowboarding joined the ranks of Olympic events.
Carpenter - Burton was his middle name - was born in New York City on April 29, 1954. His father was an investment banker. The younger Carpenter grew up in Cedarhurst, New York, and was 12 when his older brother was killed during Marine Corps service in Vietnam. Their mother died five years later of cancer.
"The losses made for two things," Carpenter told Sports Illustrated, "real independence and an ability to persevere."
Carpenter received a bachelor's degree in economics from New York University in 1977 and briefly worked for an investment firm in Manhattan before striking out on his own. He started his company with a small sum of money that he had inherited from his grandmother, whose surname was Burton, and in whose honor he named the business.
In 1983, he married Donna Gaston, who would later hold top executive roles at Burton Snowboards. They lived for a period in Austria, where Carpenter tested snowboards on the Alpine slopes and later opened a manufacturing facility. The Burton company expanded to do business around the world, selling boots, helmets, goggles, winter apparel and luggage, among other merchandise, in addition to snowboards.
In 2007, Carpenter and his wife were inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. The Vermont Sports Hall of Fame, where Carpenter was inducted in 2012, credited him with "bringing snowboarding from its backyard roots to the global stage."
In addition to his wife, survivors include three sons, George Carpenter, Taylor Carpenter and Timi Carpenter; his stepmother, Margaret Owen Carpenter; two sisters; two stepbrothers; and two stepsisters.
Carpenter, who provided his staff with regular days off for snowboarding, once reflected on the resistance he had encountered when he first tried to usher snowboarders onto ski slopes - and on what the future might hold for the sport he had helped build.
"Someone could come up with a completely new way to slide down the mountain that's even more thrilling than snowboarding, and I might be saying, 'What a waste of snow! What are these kids doing?' just like the ski establishment said to me," he told Sports Illustrated. "But I hope I'll be more open-minded."