Tucked away in an industrial park of Burlington, Vermont, next to a disused set of railroad tracks and a short walk from the shores of Lake Champlain, is the most secretive snowboard making facility in the world: Craig’s, named after the famous Burton rider and snowboard legend Craig Kelly. Little gives it away in terms of curbside appeal beyond a sign with the Burton logo. But despite its unassuming exterior, Craig’s produces all of Burton’s most coveted limited-edition and prototype boards — a process that the public rarely gets to witness. One such highly coveted, limited-edition board was being made on a rainy day in March when we stopped by for a tour of the facility.
That board was the Skeleton Key, part of Burton’s Family Tree line of boards. The boards in the Family Tree line are, more or less, experimental boards that Burton employees want to make to satisfy their own snowboard desires. The Skeleton Key, like the other Family Tree boards, wasn’t made to satisfy marketing objectives or sales numbers. These boards are a means of creative expression, a way to show what can be done with progressive snowboard design, and a way to provide the public with the snowboards that Burton designs for some of its top professional riders. It’s aimed at filling a void for Burton’s professional riders; whether or not the market responds to that remains to be seen.
At Burton’s Craig’s facility, the process of creating a snowboard is less like hand shaping a surfboard in a garage and more like engineering a new fairing for an F1 car.
Notes on the Skeleton Key, From the Slopes
The Skeleton Key lives up to its designers’ vision: a directional board that treats the entire mountain like a terrain park and gobbles up anything you feed to it. It pops like a park board, carves like a directional asymmetrical monster and charges through powder like no one’s business. It has a deep sidecut, which allows it to be euro-carved like a boss and doles out higher and better rewards the faster and harder you push it. Seward, and the rest of Burton’s design team, made a beast of a board. Learn More
It would be easy to think that designing a snowboard is led mostly by the creative process, but data is a big factor. In the case of the Skeleton Key, the process was less like hand shaping a surfboard in a garage and more like engineering a new fairing for an F1 car. Snowboard Design Engineer Scott Seward, who worked on the Skeleton Key project, said that the board was built to accommodate the riding style of professionals like Ben Ferguson. Seward mentioned that a younger group of riders, epitomized by Ferguson, are using directional snowboards in the terrain park and are riding the entire mountain in a terrain park–oriented style. This is a marked departure from the traditional twin-shaped snowboards that most professional snowboarders ride in the park.
The process of creating a board to fit that style began with observing the way that Ferguson and others are riding. Snowboard design engineers utilized a number of sensors, as well as a photography-based system, in order to nail down exactly what forces the rider is inflicting on the board. They are doing more flatland tricks, and aim to ride as stylishly as possible — eschewing the spin-to-win mentality that has become so prevalent in professional snowboarding. After observation, Burton went into an in-depth analysis led by board engineers aimed at collecting data. Information like entry angle for jumps, carving angles, and speed were all collected before going to the drawing board to reverse engineer a board to match that style of riding.
There are select few board makers at Craig’s facility, and they put each board together one at a time using triaxial fiberglass, a recycled sintered WFO base and Super Fly II 700G Core. The boards are routed and Burton’s Channel binding interface is installed; they are put through the Infinite Ride system to simulate thousands of flexes of the board to ensure quality; then they ground it down, polish it, and walk it next door to the shop at Burton’s main headquarters, or ship it out to a select few retailers and finally into the hands of the snowboarding public.
The last step for a new board at Craig’s — which is done after designing, building and testing — is coming up with a name. Senior Product Manager Lesley Betts said that there is no hard-and-fast, standardized method behind how a Burton board gets its name. In the case of the Skeleton Key, it came from the creative and marketing department, which keeps a list of names on file, waiting for the just the right shape to bring them to life. With its blend of curves and straight lines, and a notch in its tail just like the bit end of a skeleton key, the name was, just like every other part of the board, a perfect fit.