Boycott Burton?

Is Burton good for snowboarding? It’s a matter for debate in any number of discussion forums, including one for ski and snowboard instructors. For the last several months I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a brief article explaining my dislike of the company. In short, it has done some good. But it also promotes an image of riding that is bad for the sport–or at least bad for mature riders.

To quote a member of the Grays on Trays discussion forum,

Snowboarding is a sport, and one to be enjoyed, not to see who can dress more “gangsta.”

I try to avoid buying from brands promoting such crap. Burton is the biggest offender, go so far as to put a d*** “spinner” in one of last year’s boards.

Yeah, that’s one reason to avoid Burton. But friend, I’ll see you and raise you one gangsta: Avoid Burton because it encourages people to violate property rights.

From the Associated Press (December 2007):

Burton lays down a $5,000 snowboard poaching challenge. … BURLINGTON, Vt. — Burton Snowboards is challenging snowboarders to go where they’re not wanted, offering a $5,000 bounty for the best video of those who take to the slopes at “elitist, fascist” ski resorts that don’t allow snowboarding.

“Poaching isn’t simply a peaceful form of protest. It’s truly your patriotic duty,” the snowboard maker says on its Web site.

Complete and utter nonsense, even if it is great marketing. Patriotism? Patriotism means love of country, and especially the good that it stands for. In the case of the U.S., one of our best points is that we have a tradition of respecting private property. The “American Dream,” after all, includes the possibility that you can work your way up to owning a house of your own–which isn’t worth anything if you don’t have rights to it against squatters, trespassers and the like.

Yet here’s Burton, the biggest company in the snowboarding industry, calling for people to go where they’re not wanted.

Here’s another thing that frosts me about Burton: Ever hear of live and let live? Apparently not.

Jake Burton is lauded by some for taking a “pure” approach to snowboarding by not selling his company for the multimillions it would fetch. But his comments are off-base. For one thing, they’re incredibly offensive to victims of real fascism, who have been denied life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There’s also a strange sense of justice in the “we’re going to ride wherever we want to” campaign. Says Mr. Burton:

“For 25 years we’ve been working to open resorts and we couldn’t have done it without the involvement of local riders. I don’t think that our job is done, so you can snowboard everywhere. … Mountains can be brutally cruel but they’re not discriminatory. I don’t think any resort is entitled to be discriminatory based on what’s on your feet.”

Of course “mountains” do not “discriminate,” since they’re not moral actors. But what of the people who spend millions of dollars to install lifts? Certainly they ought to be able to have some say over what people carry onto those lifts, which are their property.

Think of this: Is it wrong for a movie theater to “discriminate” against patrons who bring floodlights into screening rooms?

Let’s continue with the news story.

Like Mad River, Deer Valley said its guests are looking for a ski-only experience.

Snowboarders have options at other resorts, said Coleen Reardon, director of marketing.

“They (skiers) feel that snowboarders ride the mountain differently than skiers ski it, and that they’d feel a little safer,” she said.

The few times that snowboarders do poach: “We tell them snowboarders aren’t allowed and help them off the mountain,” she said.

Here’s a business that is attentive to the wants of its customers. For various reasons, some skiers don’t like to be around snowboards. You or I may think that’s a foolishness, but then again, there’s no accounting for taste.

Back to the story:

But that’s discriminatory, says Burton.

“Just like you want to be able to walk into any restaurant and eat. You want to go to any resort and ride,” he said.

Burton is no stranger to poaching. He and his wife were hele-boarding in Utah a few years ago when they were dropped off at the top of Alta.

“We were screamed at,” he said of the ride down.

A few points. One, the restaurant analogy is absurd. A better analogy would be this: You walk into a restaurant with your own food and portable stove and demand a table. The restaurant refuses. Are they being “discriminatory?” Yes, and rightly so.

It’s too bad that Mr. Burton and his wife were screamed at. People can be such idiots. But then again, should customers of a business who expect one service be happy when an outsider comes in to disrupt their experience? Say Mr. Burton and his wife are having dinner at a fancy restaurant. Would he be thrilled if a bunch of guys came in, set up a couple of kegs at the next table, and started throwing bones from chicken wings down at the floor?

Such silly thinking may not be unique to Burton, and any company that was the market leader in snowboarding goods would face incentives to spout nonsense about being unjustly discriminated against.

Even so, I try to avoid buying Burton goods whenever I can. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s rather hard to find substitutes, especially if you’re pressed for time and need to stop in a retail outlet rather than wait for a mail-order product to arrive. So at times I contribute to the fortunes to a company that makes riders look silly and morally confused. But thinking back on this last season has given me more reason to consider planning ahead and finding alternatives.

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5 Responses to Boycott Burton?

  1. Paul says:

    I just did a google for boycott burton and this is one of the results. Very good points, I like that someone who actually snowboards is against the blatant ‘gansta’ mentality of Jake Burton. He needs to get a grip and get his head right.

  2. John@GraysOnTrays says:


    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. RDP says:

    John –
    I think the Burtons have been corrupted by power, and I agree with you that their extremes are obnoxious. What I like about the Burton brand is its valuing of those who are different – who are outsiders, even pariahs. One could argue that our country was founded by a bunch of people who violated lots of British subjects’ property rights and lots of native americans’ property rights in ways far less excusable than trespassing and riding a snowboard in forbidden places. But the real point is that their right to say what they think and your right to respond and to boycott are both protected by our Constitution. I like the Burtons because they are mavericks and because the Burton brand welcomes and supports outsiders. In the process of tolerating differences, though, they have forgotten that we all owe tolerance to property owners as well as to gangsta shredders. When I wear my Burton t-shirt, I’m really saying I’m different and I respect differences. I’m not condoning a $5000 reward for a video of illegal rides. To me the Burton brand is synonymous with snowboarding. It’s different. It’s edgy. It’s way more fun than any other sport I’ve tried. I make cross-generational friends on chair-lifts and in my neighborhood because kids like my Burton Custom or notice my Burton shirt. It’s like the Mix-It-Up idea that’s been so successfully championed by Basically, I’d rather talk to Jake Burton than arrest him for trespassing. I like Grays On Trays for the same reason. It’s different. It says riding is too much fun to be left to the kids. It says adults can do cool things and are willing to take calculated risks. It counters the Simpsons model of adulthood. It is also a community – one I’m proud to be part of and one you can be proud of creating. Rob

  4. GraysOnTrays says:

    Well, you certainly bring up a lot of points there, Rob. I agree that Burton has done a lot to create an industry and a sport, and that the European settler’s treatment of Indians was rather, well, it didn’t win any human rights awards. I share your admiration of our tradition of freedom of speech–a topic I could spend a lot of time writing about.

    Now, “tolerance” is a funny word these days. I’m not sure that respecting property rights is tolerance as much as it is respecting the law and, in effect, the engine (you earn, you keep) that drives our economy.

    I’m all for treating people with respect even if you disagree with them. But that doesn’t square with poaching.

    As for Burton welcoming outsiders? Which outsiders? And how has Burton welcomed the outsiders, whoever they are, more than other snowboarding companies?

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