Burton Opens Craig's R&D Facility
Burton officially opened their new R&D facility in Vermont yesterday, named simply "Craig's" after the late snowboarding icon Craig Kelly. The effort marks Burton's largest and most modern R&D facility to date, capable of kicking out around 2,000 one-off decks a year -- an investment that Jake Burton felt was necessary to make in this era that is coming to be defined by ever-evolving board shapes, that keep diverging from each other in ways of camber, rocker, and profile design.
"We needed a way to stay on top of it," says Burton, "and this was clearly the way to do it."
What's most significant about the facility is that it pays homage to one of snowboarding's most formative riders. Craig Kelly didn't just push the riding side of the sport, he was a legit engineer as well, and brought just as much zeal to his relationship developing products with long-time sponsor Burton as did to perfecting his snowboarding game.
"The guy was such a perfectionist in his riding and everything that he did. He could get the perfect snowboard, and then ... make it better," says Burton. "It just dawned on me one day, this [facility] is what Craig was all about."
"Prototype" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a first full-scale and usually functional form of a new type or design of a construction." Fittingly, it's also defined as "an original model on which something is patterned." Put together, you get the perfect description of Kelly: an individual that was constantly refining his riding and his product designs, ultimately building a legend that would define professional snowboarding for generations to come.
Kelly's influence lead to a whole new "team-driven" paradigm of design and marketing for Burton.
"I was making all the aesthetic and functional decisions on my own," Burton recalls. There was one board graphic in particular where Kelly's input changed the process: "Craig tried not to hurt my feelings, but he conveyed to me that this was the ugliest s--- he had seen and nobody would buy it. And it sunk in that -- wow, it's easier listening to other people instead of making all these decisions myself. I went in that direction, and I think that had a lot to do with the success of the brand."
The new 10,000 square foot R&D facility, located just across the parking lot from Burton's Burlington headquarters, also features an archive room that shows the history of gear progression, from Burton-branded hiking boots and primitive, essentially binding-less boards, up to the latest high-tech products.
The walls feature a photographic time line that tracks the evolution of snowboarding as well, spanning grab-less ditch airs to the modern double corks and handrail attacks we're seeing today. Kelly's signature products get a special display on the back wall.
The timing of the opening was meant to honor the January passing of Kelly, who died in an avalanche in British Columbia where he was living and working as guide. Guest speakers Terje Haakonsen and Mike Ranquet told tales of meeting Kelly and his influence on them, and the sport in general.
January is a month worth remembering Kelly's legacy, but also honoring the power that mountains have. The early winter months of January and February, when heavy snowfalls have yet to set up into stable snowpacks, have seen the death of several high-profile riders, including Jamil Khan, Tristan Picot, and Greg Todds.
"People just have to be educated. And that is the tragedy of Craig's death -- he was probably the most careful guy out there, the most calculated guy," says Burton. "You have to do what Craig did, educate yourself and be aware of what you are getting into," advises Burton. "That's what I did with my kids. I've got one in Colorado and one in Utah, and I was like, 'I'll pay for the avy course, just learn what's going on.'"