The Burton Blog

Midnight Deals and Family Values: The Story of Burton Europe, and the First Modern Snowboard Factory

There’s no better example of our family-owned ethos than the story of how Donna and Jake brought Burton (and modern snowboarding) to Europe.

Back in the day, like many young couples, Donna and Jake were busy building what would become their lives and careers. One winter, while they were working desperately to evolve snowboards from their early form (more or less just a piece of wood with a leash) to sophisticated modern tools, they joined Donna’s parents on a vacation in Austria. Jake spent almost the whole time poking around ski factories to find someone who might produce snowboards with steel edges. One factory after another turned him down until he stumbled upon Keil Ski, a ski manufacturer based in Uttendorf (close to Salzburg).

Jake showed up in the middle of the night. The owner had to wake his daughter up to translate. Jake was determined, and must have worked some magic because right there, at midnight, they shook hands and closed the deal. Shortly after, a prototype of Burton's first modern snowboard was created.

The 1985 Burton Performer Elite Snowboard
The 1985 Performer Elite, Burton's first board with a p-tex base and metal edges, "Laminated in Austria" at the Keil factory.

The new board that Jake and Keil produced was something completely innovative, and they hoped to show it off at the SIA Ski Show in Las Vegas. Of course, schedules were tight, and Jake was running a little late, so he called in a favor from the factory, asking them to deliver the board in person by carrying it on a plane to the States.

A letter from Jake Burton to Herman Kapferer

It was a seat-of-the pants kind of situation that called for a specialist. Like in a heist movie when someone says, “I know just the guy…”

In this case, that guy would be Hermann Kapferer, who happened to run a forwarding company out of Innsbruck. He stepped up to the challenge, and personally delivered the board to SIA on time. That’s where Jake and Hermann met—a connection that would change their lives forever. They got along right away, like wax and P-tex.

Jake was looking to set up a permanent operation in Europe and needed someone on that side of the Atlantic to help. So, the day after they met, he asked Hermann to find an office space and get to work. He didn’t have time to explain everything, but said he’d send a letter (left) with all the details. No problem…

"We chose Innsbruck due to its high affinity to winter sports, the close-by mountains and glacier, as well as the infrastructure," Jake explains. "It was the perfect setup for us."

Also, Innsbruck had an airport, and was located in the center of Europe, with easy access to Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and France. Donna, only 22 years old at the time, became the manager, and stayed there for the following four years to set up the business.

Introducing snowboarding in the heart of the Alps.

Developing the sport was the most important thing for the small team consisting of Jake, Donna, Hermann, and his wife Gabi. They knew snowboarding needed to come first, the brand would follow.

In the mid 80’s, snowboarding was super small—practically non-existent in the Alps. A lot of groundwork and lobbying had to be done, but the work paid off. Snowboarding soon became the next cool thing, especially in and around Innsbruck.

Hermann Kapferer with a group of snowboarders
1986, Hermann (far left) and a crew of Burton riders.
Burton Europe History
The Burton team showing off the 1989 board line high in the alps.
Hermann Kapferer on course at a giant slalom race
Hermann rounding gate #2 in a slalom race back in the 80s.
The city of Innsbruck got a whole new image after Burton settled there: the traditional mountain town became a lot more young, dynamic and trend-setting.
– Hermann Kapferer, former General Manager of Burton Europe

Having the Burton European Headquarters in Innsbruck changed the face of the town. Burton’s presence acted as an anchor, drawing events like the “Air & Style” along with a wave of young companies and manufacturers. The local university attracted people from all over the world, many of whom ended up working at Burton or the surrounding companies.

From the small team in the mid 80’s, Burton Europe grew into an economic hub, employing more than 120 people from over 17 nations.

Burton's European Headquarders in Innsbruck, Austria
Burton's European HQ in Innsbruck.
Inside Burton's European headquarters
Step inside, and you'll be greeted by more than a few friendly faces.
The Burton Europe crew on company ride day
The Burton Europe crew on company ride day. A lot has changed, but the entrepreneurial spirit is still the same.

These days, the Innsbruck office serves as HQ for all European operations, from sales and marketing to customer service and logistics.

Innsbruck has grown, too, into a snowboard mecca where people from all over the world come together to work, study, and share their passion for the outdoors. A 20-minute drive from the office will take you to one of the best year-round glaciers in Europe (Stubai, duh!), and in the summer, lunch breaks at the river, BBQ sessions, and sunset hikes are daily routines.

“With our favorite playgrounds just around the corner,” Donna says, “morning riding sessions are just as common as having coffee breaks with people from all kind of different backgrounds and origins.”

Burton Europe began as a family operation, and still is today. Jake and Donna’s relationship with Hermann remains close as ever. Jake and Hermann are literally godfathers to each other’s first-born sons! Hermann retired in 2016, but he is still involved as a consultant for the company and snowboards non-stop. After all, you don't just leave family.

Interested in being part of the team at Burton Snowboards Europe? Check out our job listings.