Chris Doyle: Burton’s Mad Scientist
“Progression” is a word that gets tossed around a lot in snowboarding. Usually it refers to the riding itself, such as the explosion of double and, more recently, triple corks in slopestyle, the increased influence of skateboarding in urban riding, or the push to ride deeper and more remote terrain a la Jeremy Jones.
But you can’t talk about the way snowboarding has progressed over the years without giving credit to the technology behind the riding. It’s easy to write off this new camber profile or that new space-age material as just hype and fluff, but don’t forget that there was a time before highbacks and twin-tip boards. At some point someone had to say, “Hey, this is something we should try,” and those people had to design, build, test, and perfect those ideas themselves. One of those people is Chris Doyle, otherwise known as the Mad Scientist, over in Craig’s Facility at Burton Snowboards.
Welcome to Craig’s Facility
Doyle has been involved in snowboarding from the beginning, and he’s witnessed it progress from its infancy into what it is today. As he puts it, “When I got into snowboarding, snowboarding didn’t really exist except for a very few people. My first snowboard…was transportation for me. I was working at Sugarbush, and I didn’t have a car … I would use the board to ride down Westhill Road to get home at night.” In the late ’80s, Doyle was the “fix-it guy” at Sugarbush, because in those days “everything broke all the time.” He credits this period as when he really figured out what makes boots and bindings work well together, and it’s also where he began making his own modifications to his equipment. “You couldn’t just go out and buy what we do today … so we had to make a lot of our own modifications.” After helping to found GrindRite with some friends and working with them for a few years, he was offered a job on the binding development team at Burton in 1996 and has been there ever since.
His time at Burton has taught him how essential rider input and feedback is in developing products and technologies that will have a lasting impact on snowboarding. After years of working with the likes of Terje, Jim Rippey, and Craig Kelly, he says, “They are always riding ahead of us, and it’s up to us to chase them and continually work hard to make their equipment live up to the level of their riding … when you watch them riding, you realize you’ve gotta step up and do something better for them.” Doyle works tirelessly with the Burton team to diagnose problems and create solutions. Things we take for granted, such as sliding adjustable straps that are internal instead of just bolted on to the outside in a fixed position, were developed in situations like when Doyle was sent on a trip to Europe with Terje and told, “Don’t come back until Terje is really happy with his bindings.”
Early prototypes were made with Dremel tools, Bondo, and epoxy putty. Though the means were primitive by today’s standards, Doyle was able to develop amazing ideas and bring wild new concepts to life. He gained an appreciation for craftsmanship and attention to detail while working on airplanes when he was younger, where a small mistake could mean the difference between life and death. The same gravity applies to the terrain pro snowboarders find themselves in, which is why quality is so important to Doyle—and it certainly shows in the products he’s helped to create.
Doyle going over some prototype bindings
Things have come a long way since the days of epoxying weed-whacker cord to create mesh highbacks. Today, there are three different types of rapid prototyping machines in Craig’s Facility that can bring ideas from concept to prototype in a matter of days or even hours: a selective laser sintering (SLS) machine, a filament deposition modeling (FDM) machine, and a 3D printer. These tools are revolutionizing the way products and parts are prototyped and manufactured in snowboarding. What once was a month-long process of sending designs overseas and waiting on prototypes to be shipped back can now be done in a day. Because of the rapid turnaround, Doyle and other product developers can try out ideas once considered too cost-prohibitive or outlandish to risk investing so much time and money into. One of these ideas is the new Hammock highback found on this year’s Genesis and Escapade bindings, which features a suspension cradle that simultaneously increases flex and response, a seemingly contradictory idea once thought to be impossible.
Whenever you think the progression of snowboarding has plateaued, just remember there was a time when riding backwards was a foreign concept, and that only a decade ago the tricks that riders like Mark McMorris and Ethan Deiss are throwing down in the park and the streets were inconceivable. No one knows exactly what the future holds for snowboarding and the technology that accompanies it, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Doyle and the team at Burton will play a part in shaping it.