“Underberg Cheers”: Not only a Ritual for Jake Burton
What links a winter sports company from Vermont and a spirits company from Germany? The godfather of snowboarding. Jake Burton Carpenter not only founded the global brand Burton in 1977, he was also a big fan of the natural herbal bitter Underberg. We talked to George Carpenter, the eldest son of the company's founder, and Dr. Hubertine Underberg-Ruder on his importance to the snowboarding community, “A Day for Jake” and Burton’s collaboration snowboard project with Underberg.
That the memory of Jake Burton Carpenter plays a big role for you as a family is more than understandable. But why do the memory of your father and “A Day for Jake” have such great significance for the entire Burton community? What made him stand out?
George Carpenter (GC): We started “A Day for Jake” several months after my dad died. The first event was about celebrating the impact my dad had on people's lives and the snowboard community. We had a service right after my dad passed in Vermont, and a lot of people around the world couldn't make it. So we decided to organize a global celebration of my dad and the impact he had on our culture and our community. The first “A Day for Jake” was a way for everyone to share the remembrance and their love. Thousands of people around the world joined the first Day for Jake – many of them had met my dad. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a new snowboard shop or gone to a new town in many countries around the world and people will remember that my dad gave them a handshake. I think my dad was so great about meeting everyone in the community around the world, and those moments all have an impact on everyone he met. They remember meeting him – even if they only had a few seconds with him – he was a very impactful person. So the first ‘Day for Jake’ was a way to celebrate his legacy and celebrate the fact that he was moving on spiritually, but he was still with all of us. After the first year, we decided to continue it and make it into an annual tradition. It's a great way to get our community together every March and has become a global in-person ceremony. With the rise of the Internet and social media, Western cultures don't really take part in a lot of ceremonies anymore. And this one is really special for snowboarders and people that met my dad – or even if they didn't meet my dad, they still get together to celebrate him because of his impact on our entire sport.
What has he given to snowboarding as a sport?
GC: If you haven't seen it already, I would recommend watching “Dear Rider,” a documentary about my dad to understand what he gave to snowboarding. This film shows that since the beginning, my dad knew there was something more to snowboarding than just making a product, he knew there could be a sport behind it. My dad along with some other early snowboard pioneers took the concept of the Snurfer and developed it into something that could be ridden at ski resorts. Snowboards weren’t allowed at many ski resorts for a long time. Some of the early snowboard pioneers dropped off, but my dad really stayed with the sport and progressed it until he died.
Ms. Underberg-Ruder, what did you know about the snowboard brand and its legendary founder before being contacted by Burton?
Hubertine Underberg-Ruder (HUR): My oldest son Ludwig has always been a big fan of Burton. He told me so much about the Test Ride Center in Lörrach. That is located near Basel, not far from our home. There you can test the material and equipment. He also told me a lot about the different logos of the Burton company, how it has changed over the years, and of course about all the creativity that goes with it. Since our family name has the word “mountain” in it, trademarks with a mountain or mountain range are always very exciting to me personally. Burton is simply a very likeable and high-quality brand – just like Underberg...
Were you familiar with Jake Burton beforehand?
HUR: No, that came later. However, I was already aware of the Burton brand when it came to Europe in the late 1980s and revolutionized the snowboard market. Personally, the contact with the family came when George's brother Timi made the first contact with Underberg in 2021.
Jake Burton Carpenter's passion for Underberg – how did this connection actually come about?
GC: My mom and dad spent a lot of time in Austria. I know when they came back from living in Austria for a few years, he became a fan. At that time, Underberg was harder to find in the States. So I remember growing up as a kid he would often have big boxes of Underberg in his office.
Were there special occasions when Underberg was drunk?
GC: He always had a supply of Underberg in his office. But there was always a kind of a connection to nature when he drank an Underberg – like after snowboarding or after a long hike in the woods. It was a way of celebrating a long day outside and having fun. He would often share that with friends. It was more of a celebratory type of ritual.
When did you drink your first Underberg?
GC: When I was growing up I was always curious about Underberg and the taste. My dad would give me like little sips of Underberg. Then on my 21st birthday – or maybe it was a little bit earlier – we were snowboarding together. And after a long day of snowboarding we had our first Underberg together.
How did you like the taste?
GC: I had been around a lot of people that described the taste of Underberg and the effect it had on them. So I think I was kind of prepared for how it would taste in my mind and enjoyed it. For me it tasted very natural.
HUR: Most people like Underberg when they are prepared for the bitter taste and know what to expect. That fits with the experience you've had, George.
Your father is said to have been an outspoken fan of the "Tops & More" loyalty program. He was particularly fond of the truck – the herb mobile. What memories do you have of this connection?
GC: The program “Tops&More” was definitely a part of his connection to Underberg. A typical thing for him was inviting ten people to a day of snowboarding, giving them an Underberg at the end of the day and then he’d tell them: “Give me the caps back.”
Is it true that his most love item of Underberg souvenirs was the herbal truck?
Yes, I remember that truck. And when he passed away and we were going through his stuff, we found a big bag full of caps. So I think he could have gotten more souvenirs.
The connection between Burton and Underberg will be documented by a joint board from mid-March. Jake's personal line “Mine77”, which bears the founding year of Burton in its name, is launching a strictly limited special edition “UNDERBERG x MINE77” – with portion bottle, the green herb mobile and the legendary capsules. How do you like the board?
GC: I love this board and want to have two of them – one to hang on my wall and one to ride. It's really great for powder snowboarding and everyday riding – you can use it in all conditions. The graphic is super creative.
What would Jake have thought about the board?
GC: He would have loved the board. And he would have ridden it a lot. He probably would have sent boards to his close friends for them to ride or hang on their walks. I think in general this whole project would have been something he would have really loved. We're all very happy and proud of my brother Timi who started the initiative and contacted Underberg.
The two of you have already met in person in January 2022 – at the movie premiere of the HBO documentary "Dear Rider" in Zurich, which I mentioned earlier. Are the two of you connected by the fact that they both work for their own family business?
HUR: In a certain way, both companies follow their convictions and are not very impressed by the majority. I think we have that in common with Burton. We don't add any sugar to the spirit, for example, which is extraordinary. We keep the bitters natural. This approach gives us a kind of expressiveness: Underberg stands for something special with the brand – just like Burton. Underberg is made of herbs from 43 different countries, which is non-negotiable. Underberg is available exclusively in single-serving bottles, which to this day is an almost unique concept – proven and successful for decades. And almost more importantly, when I think of similarities: Burton and Underberg are both family businesses in the best sense of the word. As a family, we assume a special degree of responsibility – for the company, for our products and for the whole Underberg team.
Both companies have a strong connection to nature. What kind of responsibility comes with that?
GC: We outlined our goals for the future and you can find them all at Burton.com/purpose. When it comes to the planet, one of our goals is to be climate positive by 2025 to try and minimize our long-term impact on nature. There’s no snowboarding without snow, so we have a vested interest in protecting nature and our climate.
HUR: Sustainability goals are also very important to us. Biodiversity is an enormously present topic and very significant for the 43 herbs that Underberg processes in its bitters. My parents kept a close eye on how winter tourism affects biodiversity back in the 1970s – that was 50 years ago now. In doing so, my parents were very progressive and ahead of their time even then. They introduced a research dialogue for the conservation of nature. This also influenced me personally; I studied biology and have always considered nature a jewel. So Burton and Underberg both place a really high value on nature.
This year, “A Day for Jake” will take place on Saturday, March 11. At 50 different ski resorts in Europe and North America the “Godfather of Snowboarding” will be remembered, including an Underberg Cheers. Where will you be on the day? And what thoughts will accompany you on that day?
GC: I will be at Mammoth Mountain in California. It’s one of my favorite mountains in the U.S. and a lot of my friends live up there. Also, it’s centrally located in California, so everyone from Northern California can come down and everyone from Southern California can come up. We’re all looking forward to that day.
What thoughts will accompany you on that day?
GC: It’s always pretty emotional. As one of Jake’s sons, people share the impact that my dad had on them a lot. I love it, and I want to give them something back so they walk away feeling a connection to my family. It can be exhausting to take everyone's energy and internalize it, but at the same time I'm very grateful for the life I have and the whole community. I'm happy to share my space and energy with them and it's always just a super fun day. I make sure to go with some of my closest friends and we all stay in the same house together. So after the mountain ceremony and the Underberg Cheers I can hang out with my closest friends. March was always our favorite month as a family. February is very dark and gray in Vermont where I grew up. But in March, it gets warmer and lighter and the snow is often really good. What I like about “A Day for Jake” the most is that it is more of a celebration of his life versus remembering the day he died. On the day he died, that anniversary, I like spending that time with just my family. So March is better and I really love that day.
“A Day for Jake” plays a big role for the entire snowboard community. What would your father have actually said if he had witnessed the hustle and bustle that day?
GC: My dad was very humble. For example, when someone would say that he invented snowboarding, he always said: “I didn’t invent snowboarding, but I helped pioneer it and make it what it is today.” Even though he was humble, he would’ve loved the fact that everyone's getting together and having a good time. But when it comes to celebrating him, I think he would have said: “Don't make a big deal about it….” But we are anyways!
HUR: I'm very sympathetic to that. That moment definitely deserves an Underberg. (Ms. Underberg-Rudder raises the single-serving bottle and toasts her counterpart, who now also has the herbal bitters in hand).