By Jake Burton
I've been to every Winter Olympics since snowboarding became a part of the Games in 1998. It's always an interesting experience to see snowboarding, which used to have such an outcast feel, in Olympic mode.
People often ask me what the Olympics have done for snowboarding. For me, it's more about what snowboarding has done for the Olympics. More than ever before, snowboarding was at the center of the world's attention in Vancouver. The night of the men's halfpipe finals, more people watched NBC's coverage of the Olympics than American Idol, which says a lot about how far snowboarding has come as an Olympic event and its draw. The plaid and denim 'uniforms' we designed for the US Snowboard Olympic Team also got a lot of play during the Games, which goes to show that the best way to make a uniform that snowboarders actually want to wear is by giving them a say in the design and keeping it true to our sport.
One of the best things about our sport is that professional riders can take a variety of career paths, and the Olympics are just one of them. Having said that, it takes a whole new level of commitment and skills just to compete in the Olympic halfpipe, let alone win medals at two different Winter Games like Burton riders Shaun White, Hannah Teter, and Kelly Clark did. And to see Peetu Piiroinen, one of our riders from Finland, on the Olympic podium for the first time and know that he's a hero in his home country was a great experience.
But once the Olympics are done, it feels good to come home and know that the next time I see the best snowboarders in the world compete will be in Vermont, where snowboarding has a rich heritage, at the US Open, going down from March 19-21 at Stratton Mountain Resort. Compared to the Olympics, where everything is under the control of a ski federation, the Open has been run by snowboarders, for snowboarders since 1982. It is snowboarding's oldest active competition, and year after year, it's the home of the sport's most progressive riding. This week at Stratton, five out of the six 2010 Olympic halfpipe medalists, including Shaun White, Peetu Piiroinen, Scotty Lago, Hannah Teter, and Kelly Clark are slated to compete.
As a company and a sport we have so much history at the US Open. Southern Vermont is where we spent the first 15 years getting Burton rolling, and Stratton was the first major mountain to let us ride. I remember hiking or catching rides with night groomers in snow-cats when it was the only way we could get up the mountain and ride down without getting busted.
It's a little different now, but the Open still has the same feel - a bunch of snowboarders getting together to progress the sport and have a good time with their friends. Burton's Vermont headquarters is usually half empty during the Open as it's a company tradition for the office staff to head down to Stratton and volunteer at the event. And besides watching the world's best riders, one of my favorite parts about the Open is taking a few runs with the kids who participate in our non-profit organization CHILL, which my wife Donna and I started in 1995 to bring snowboarding to kids who otherwise wouldn't have the chance to experience it.
Snowboarding has reached superstar status for sure, with top TV ratings during the Olympics, its own celebrities and lots of attention from mainstream media. But it always feels good to be back at the US Open on home snow, so to speak.