007: Tom Burt/Snowboarding's Great Pioneer

 Tom judging the Freeride World Tour, 2017 

“I’m probably alive today because I made good turns.”

For episode 7 of the Looking Sideways podcast, I was lucky enough to speak to one of snowboarding’s all time legends: Mr Tom Burt.

Tom Burt has been at the cutting edge of freeriding for over thirty years. Whether it’s been putting down legendary lines like Cordova Peak, being one of the first riders to open up Alaska, his filming feats with Standard, or his current role as Head Judge on the Freeride World Tour, Tom has seen it all, done it all and got the tales to prove it

Tom getting the goods, 2017
Above all, Tom is one of those gloriously unique individuals who make up the backbone of action sports history, a rider whose deeds and attitude gave sports like snowboarding its spirit and culture and who effectively shaped the sport in his own image. It’s no over-statement to say that without riders like Tom setting the standards back in the 80s and 90s, the very history of snowboarding would be very different.

 Tom’s original polaroid of Cordova Peak, which he used to plan his line 

Highlights of our conversation include:

  • Inventing the concept of the modern professional snowboarder with Jim Zellers.
  •  Reminiscing about the early days of the Tahoe scene with Terry Kidwell, Bob Klein and Bob Armbruster.
  •  Mentoring every notable rider to ever make his name in AK, from Travis to Tommy Brunner.
  •  Tom’s first descent of Cordova Peak, still one of the great lines in snowboarding history.
  • The ‘Something’ club and their plans for 50, 60 and 80.

It was great to sit there in the presence of living snowboarding history, sit back and enjoy the stories from a man with a truly unique perspective on snowboarding. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Tom talks us though Cordova Peak, still one of snowboarding's most legendary lines.

Show Notes

  • Tom on his role judging the Verbier Extreme as head ski judge and scoring judge on the snowboarding.
  • The difficulty of judging an event with such high standards.
  • Ryan Faye’s line.
  • Rennie Barkered’s run.
  • Leo Slemmet’s run.
  • Tom’s background as a judge on the FWT.
  • Growing up as a skier in Lake Tahoe.
  • How Tom got into snowboarding in 1982.
  • First experience riding powder.
  • Hanging out with Bob Klein – and inadvertently inventing wakesurfing.
  • First day riding a ski resort with with Bob and Terry Kidwell.
  • At school with Bob, Terry and Alan Armbruster.
  • The early years of snowboarding camaraderie based around different scenes and different contests.
  • Turning ‘pro’ after winning $75 at the 1985 Worlds.
  • First sponsorship with Avalanche Snowboards.
  • The mid 80s scenes around Slide Mountain and Donner Ski Ranch.
  • Tom’s backcountry partnership with Jim Zellers.
  • Taking the skills learned as a ski mountaineer to snowboarding.
  • How racing became more serious and an industry began to develop around it.
  • Getting shut down by most of the ski industry.
  • Early sponsorship years.
  • Tom’s Juicy Fruit ad.
  • ‘We learned you could do a ton of marketing without spending any money’.
  • How Tom and Jim Zellers pretty much invented the modern concept of the snowboard pro…
  • …and how the establishment of modern snowboarding media gave them an outlet.
  • Their early trips: Montana, and an early late 80s trip to Alaska.
  • Early years growing up and learning about ski mountaineering.
  • Pioneering the early Alaska scene.
  • Denali ascent and descent.
  • How Tom trained for his bigger ski mountaineering exploits – whatever the conditions.
  • ‘When you lay it out there on a serious line, you don’t want to be second guessing your ability. You just want to know that you can go where you need to get to.’
  • The question of exposure and fear while taking on these hugely exposed descents.
  • Tom talks us through the legendary first descent of Cordova Peak.
  • Mendenhall Towers.
  • Opening up Juneau, and mentoring the younger riders coming through.
  • Tom’s overview of the riders he’s ridden with and admired over the years.
  • Judging Travis Rice’s Supernatural.
  • Backing away from AK to concentrate on family life and judging FWT.
  • ‘The Deeper, Higher, Further trilogy is basically a copy of mine and Jim Zeller’s bucket list’
  • Tom and Jim in the Himalayas.
  • Tom’s advice for an ordinary snowboarder thinking of making the trip to Alaska.
  • The Lake Tahoe stomping ground – the TB Spines and TB Cliff.
  • The importance of riding varied terrain with different people to improve as a snowboarder.
  • Getting ready for the 50something face – and already have an 8000 feet line marked out to celebrate his 80th birthday.
  • The five – Jim Zellers, Bonnie Zellers, Bruce Griggs, Shawn Dodd.
  • Tom’s take on the current state of the industry.
  • What he’s looking for as a Freeride World Tour judge.
  • What he’d do on his last day riding.
  • What snowboarding means to him now.

Places/events/programmes/media mentioned

People mentioned