Words: Mary Walsh
The moment that Doyle starts speaking, the air around him is electric. His eyes light up, and every word he says is punctuated by that same excitement felt on a deep powder day, maybe the first big one of the season. His energy is contagious as it is charismatic, and his stories relatable as they are legendary. He's a take-things-apart-figure-them-out-and-make-them-better kind of person—both the visionary and the creator. A rare individual, not only because he is able to explain the nuances of 3D printing to the elementary school groups that often tour his workshop at 80 Industrial, the Burlington, Vermont headquarters of Burton Snowboards, but because he's able to make complicated, technical concepts enticing no matter his audience, because his passion for his work is so effusively palpable. The more Doyle says, the more you want to hear.
Doyle's first name is Chris, but no one calls him that. His official title at Burton, where he has worked since 1996, is Rapid Prototype Engineer, but it's almost more explicit to call him a mad scientist. But then again, he's not mad. His workshop is one part laboratory—tools, 3D printers, diagrams, and more fuselage of the development cycle fill the room—and one part museum, with artifacts of snowboard technology, old Burton branding, and other vestiges of winter lining the walls. It's the lucid daydream of a snow-obsessed youth come true: a snowboarding think tank-slash-clubhouse.
For more than two decades, Doyle has made laps in this workshop, barefoot most the time, working with team riders and nearly every segment of the company to create things that will enhance the experience of standing sideways. Shortly after coming to Burton, he was sent to meet up with Terje Haakonsen during the filming of Subjekt: Haakonsen. "On my desk I found a check for 1,000 bucks, a ticket to Zurich, and the instructions not to come back until Terje was happy with his bindings." That objective, to make snowboard gear better, has been paramount ever since, coming to fruition in his workshop every day. Early ideas are built out to concrete concepts so they can be picked apart by engineers, designers, product managers, and of course, Doyle and his crew. "A board designer could be working on an idea in the morning, and while they're off having lunch I can print it up so they have it for their afternoon meeting," Doyle explains. "We really embrace rapid prototyping and its function for the whole company. We do everything from boards to boot soles, zipper pulls to badges; if it isn't a full textile product, we can make it in this room. It's utter magic, future world shit, and that's my life in here every day."
Doyle is an individual emblematic of snowboarding's ethos, his contagious enthusiasm far-reaching within Burton and beyond. His most recent project? A multi-year dive into the creation of Step On binding technology, an easy-to-use boot and binding interface that makes the act of snowboarding more accessible, something that Burton hopes will help to grow the number of people strapping in, or stepping on, rather. When Doyle explains how the new bindings work, years' worth of passion and dedication emphasize every word.
Doyle was born in upstate New York, moving around the area as dictated by his father's job. In the summertime he would spend time in Southern Vermont at his grandparents' home. "Those were my first experiences in Vermont," he says. "Mount Snow was the first place I ever slid on snow—in 1972." Later, as a student at Syracuse University, he wanted to become a photographer, but a quarter of a GPA point derailed his plans, and he decided to take a year off. Through a few serendipitous odd jobs, the young New Yorker landed in Waitsfield, Vermont, where he got a gig in the ski repair shop at Sugarbush. "I had to sweep wax before I was allowed to scrape it," remembers Doyle, with a laugh. This first winter spent in the mountains would draw him back a few years later, after he had earned a degree in finance and fled life in NYC, literally, on a motorcycle headed north in a snowstorm. "That winter back in Vermont, my first snowboard was a Burton Woody with a rope on the nose. I just had the motorcycle, so the Woody was my transportation. I worked on the mountain and then snowboarded home down the road. My first powder turns were there, going home, because they plowed that road last."
Over time, Doyle's tuning and repair abilities became well known. "The mountain opened to snowboards in '88 and I became the snowboard guy. I was the only person that would work on snowboards. And then I started waxing at contests." At the time, tuning like that hadn't crossed over from ski racing, and Doyle was instrumental in the practice, garnering him renown among the ranks of riders. His abilities led to a position at Grindrite during the early nineties and then to Burton. His initial job description was succinct: work with the team riders, see what they like and then Burton will make that into products. "I would create things for the riders' prototypes, right from the time of Craig [Kelly]. His philosophy was always: build things for the riders, and the business will come. That's what got me started, and that was really cool." That ideology has driven Doyle's inquisitive craftsmanship to this day. His experience has developed alongside the sport he loves and the tools at his disposal have continued to improve, futuristic machines able to make ideas materialize in under a day. His process is agile, going from concept to creation and back again, and always with the same goal of bettering the product emblazoned with the Burton moniker, because when it comes down to it, Doyle is still very much the kid making turns through the dark on a Burton Woody, but now, in his workshop, with the means to help others capture that same feeling.