Just on the other side of the parking lot from where the world’s most influential snowboard company conducts its day-to-day operations lies Craig’s Facility, an R&D dreamland where experimental boards come together in hours and prototype parts can be created overnight. Much more than just a workshop, Craig’s gives Burton the tools and the resources to lead the way in the progression of snowboarding technology.
Before we can go forward in snowboarding, however, we need to take a step back and see where we come from as snowboarders in order to be sure things are headed in the right direction. That’s why the first stop on the Craig’s tour is a small Burton museum of sorts known simply as ‘The Barn’. It’s at The Barn where you come to realize not only how long Burton has been around and how massive its influence on snowboarding has been, but how important one man, Craig Kelly, has been to both the history of the company and the evolution of the sport.
For those who aren’t familiar, Craig Kelly was perhaps the single most influential rider in the history of snowboarding. It’s easy to point to his multiple US Open and Baker Banked Slalom wins, his multiple pro model snowboards, or his Rider of the Year awards as proof of his prowess, but it’s the less tangible aspects of his riding and career that have left the biggest marks on snowboarding.
On his board, he brought style and creativity in an era when a snowboarder’s worth was determined by finish-line times and contest results. He paved the way for today’s pros when he quit competing at the height of his contest-riding career to go ride powder in British Columbia and film video parts, at the time an unprecedented move. His fluid style and flowing lines are part of what caused Terje Haakonsen, himself one of the most influential freestyle riders in the world, to proclaim Craig “the greatest snowboarder of all time”.
However, his influence off his board has been just as important as his accomplishments on it. His tireless quest to explore what’s possible both on and off the mountain led him to not only change the way snowboards were being ridden, but to change the snowboards themselves. Coming from an engineering background, he worked extensively with Burton to develop products that would allow him to continue pushing the boundaries of the sport. Before that, riders simply worked with what they were given. But he knew that snowboarding technology at the time was only at the tip of the iceberg. He is credited with innovations such as freestyle-specific highbacks that allowed riders go bigger than ever before. Craig also worked hard with Jake Carpenter Burton throughout the ’80s to convince ski resorts to allow snowboarders to ride their mountains, changing both the public perception of snowboarding and the face of the ski industry. Jake readily admits that Burton wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Craig.
Sadly, Craig passed away ten years ago in 2003 in an avalanche in British Columbia doing what he loved most. Although he is gone, his influence can still be felt to this day just about everywhere in snowboarding. Pros no longer have to rely on contests to build careers and style is cherished above all else. Doing what’s different is encouraged and progression isn’t linear. That little company called Burton is still around, too, and with one look around their Craig’s Facility you can see that Craig’s ideals of rider-driven design, focus on style and aesthetics, and a commitment to innovation are still alive and well, and snowboarding is undoubtedly the better for it.