Faces: Tom Burt
Originally published in the Dec 2009 Issue of TransWorld Snowboarding
By Jennifer Sherowski
This legendary pro has turned a powder-riding legacy into an esteemed career spanning three decades.
Riders who gripe about how “fleeting” the career of a professional snowboarder is should consider Tom Burt. This legendary big-mountain warrior started snowboarding in 1982, got sponsored in ’85, and has spent the following quarter century launching a barrage of backcountry mayhem immortalized in video parts and magazine pages. These days, Burt is busier than ever-he’s still a sponsored pro who also guides professionally for Alaska Heliskiing, judges freeride events like the Natural Selection, and does R&D testing for DaKine, Salomon, and Helly Hansen. As if that weren’t enough, Burt recently became co-owner of his longtime sponsor, Winterstick, and took over marketing and R&D for the brand. Talk about upward mobility!
So what was it like to get spons’ed in snowboarding’s infant years? Says Burt, “I took third in a race put on by Avalanche Snowboards in 1985, and Chris Sanders from Avalanche asked me if I wanted to be sponsored. 'What does that mean?’ I asked. He said, 'I’ll give you a board when I make one.'” Although Burt didn’t get a board for another two months, he was officially hooked up! From there, it was onto the contest circuit for a few years with the rest of the pro snowboard community, followed by the discovery of his true calling on the world’s steepest and deepest.
By the early 90s, Burt’s big-mountain career had come to fruition-and seminal parts in Standard Films’ early TB movies endure as proof. He’d pillaged Alaska for the first time in 1989 and done descents in the Sierra Nevadas, Utah, Montana, and Canada. He lived in Chamonix, France and launched major descents there, before returning to Alaska to ride Mt. McKinley (a notoriously savage mountain sitting 20,000 feet above sea level). “I love mountains. I love to make powder turns. I love to snowboard,” Burt says matter-of-factly about the passion that’s provoked him to climb and ride peaks all over the world (Antarctica remains the only continent he hasn’t yet descended).
Explore as he may, however, Burt’s heart always belongs in AK come springtime. “My first heli lift in Alaska was in 1992, and I’ve only missed one year since [1994, due to a blown ACL].” But ironically, Burt never really set out to become a real-deal heli guide-it just sort of happened. “There were no official guides back then, so those of us with the most experience led the charge and made the decisions for the others,” he says. In 1995, Burt started guiding/riding in the Juneau area with Alaska Heliskiing-and he still works there today. “Last year was my fifteenth season,” he says proudly. “Guiding just puts me more in tune with the mountains and how they breathe.”
For the past seven years, Burt has been a sponsored pro for Winterstick-a company with as rich a powder-riding history as himself. As he tells it, a few years ago, the company had a problem with their manufacturer closing shop and “disappearing” with the money Winterstick had fronted for making boards. With no funds, the company struck a deal with Wagner Custom (a snowboard/ski “micro-factory” in Colorado) to manufacture its boards. At the same time, Burt jumped in to help-he’s now part owner, with teamrider, marketing, R&D, and board design as his job description.
While countless new talents have briefly flashed in the pan, Tom Burt has built a lifelong career on the simple act of snowboarding. From receiving International Snowboard Magazine’s Rider Of The Year honors back in 1989 to his latest work with Jeremy Jones and TGR on the new film Deeper, Burt continues to employ his shred expertise. When asked what he’s most proud of in his career, he says simply, “I got to do more powder turns than most people will ever dream about.”