Finding Bulgaria on a Map: A Snowboarding Journey


Photos by Jesse Dawson

Let’s say you’re a photographer who works with good people who send you good places to do what you love and what you love to do is take pictures of other people doing things that they love. If you’re Jesse Dawson maybe that means one day you get an email from Burton asking if you’d like to come take pictures of rad women snowboarding in Bulgaria. You likely say yes. Then you look at a map.

Jesse might not have known her way around Eastern Europe, and maybe she got lost somewhere on the way back from Bulgaria and bumped into Whalebone on a train rumbling past a crumbling castle somewhere around Bucharest and we said, “Hey we have a few questions for you.”


Apparently it was also one of Jake’s favorite places that he ever went snowboarding.

Who are you and what do you do?

Jesse Dawson: I’m Jesse Dawson and I am one of the photographers at Burton Snowboards and I get to go take rad photos of people doing rad things.

So one of those rad things we guess you got to go do is go to Bulgaria, which we didn’t even know they had a snowboarding thing at all.

Jesse: I did not either. And I had to look up where Bulgaria was so I knew where I was going. Yeah, it was a very, very cool trip. Very interesting experience that I’ll never forget.

So, every couple of years or so, Donna Carpenter, the CEO of our company, also one of the founders [and Jake’s wife], likes to take a bunch of women to go snowboarding. She does this not only to show certain women in the industry or at the company how much she appreciates how hard they’re working, but also for everyone to share insights—what it’s like to work for this company, what it’s like to work just in the industry in general. So a very cool trip based on having lots of fun and also trying to learn more about what’s happening in our snowboarding world.

That’s beautiful. And how did this destination become selected?

Jesse: Whew. Great question. I got an email one day. It was one of the most beautiful emails ever, saying, “Hey, you’re invited to go snowboarding in Bulgaria.” I was like, “What?” But we have a rep in Bulgaria who is one of our top female reps and she’s been with Burton for quite some time and so she wanted to show Bulgaria to us, and Donna was really excited to go there. Apparently it was also one of Jake’s favorite places that he ever went snowboarding. He had talked about what a cool trip he’d had in Bulgaria. So Donna wanted to kind of follow in the footsteps and take some women over there to ride. I think that’s how it was decided.

So you get a ticket to Bulgaria and you get there, you’re on this trip with all these people. Did you know everybody on the trip?

Jesse: No, I only knew two people on the trip. I knew Donna and I knew our rider, Anna Gasser, who was also there. All the other 13 women were brand new to me, which was a very interesting experience. And we were only there for three days and I think I walked away with like five friends that I’ll probably have for the rest of my life. It was a very cool group of women who connected really quickly.

What should somebody who’s never been there expect if they get to go to Bulgaria?

Jesse: I went over there not knowing very much and I wish I still knew more because it’s such an interesting country with so much history. They have been conquered by so many different people throughout history. And there’s a lot of culture there. There are Roman ruins under the capitol. We flew into Sofia and Sofia is very rich in culture and we saw ruins under the city, which I had no idea. We drank from fountains that are pure mineral water and it was warm. That was such a weird experience. I was like, “I expected this water to be cold coming out of the ground, but it’s warm.”

What did you do there? Any highlights?

Jesse: So, we only spent two days snowboarding, and one day we were in the backcountry and we took these crazy snowmobiles and a trailer to get there. It was kind of a wild experience. It was definitely not the typical heli-snowboarding or cat snowboarding that you see. It was kind of a gritty Bulgarian experience, but it was so cool.

We took maybe four vehicles to get out into the backcountry. We finally made it out there. We snowboarded. We had a barbecue out there, so that was day one and very unique.

And day two, we decided there was such good snow there that we were just going to ride. Donna wanted to ride the resort, but the resort was actually closed. They had one lift running for the Bulgarian ski team. And Donna was like, “Nah, fuck that. Let’s see if we can get on the lift.” And she bribed the liftee for us to be able to ride the lift all day. So that was pretty funny.


Jesse: It was great snow and we had a lot of fun. Just a very cool experience to be on a mountain with 16 women and all snowboarding. Another highlight was definitely our traditional Bulgarian dinner. We all went and had dinner at this… I honestly couldn’t even tell you the place, but it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I thought it was going to be like kind of a typical dinner. We sat down and we all ate but then they brought out these traditional choir women and they started singing. I’ve never experienced anything like this. The noise that was coming out of their mouths. I don’t even know. I don’t know how to describe it. It was like nothing I’ve ever heard. But it was so eerie and beautiful and I totally started crying because I’m such an emotional baby. But I looked at Donna. It was such an amazing moment and she just wrapped her arms around me, gave me a big hug. Long story short, we ended up kind of taking over this restaurant and it became this huge dance party.

What’s it like working for a company that does things like this?

Jesse: One of the reasons I love working for this company is because it really does feel like a family. Even though I didn’t know these women before going into it, coming out of it, I know so much about their lives and who they are and it was just so easy to be on an adventure with them because we all had such a similar mindset. The fact that snowboarding brings us together but also that it takes us dancing in a restaurant at night. And I think Donna and Burton, in general, do this so much and so easily because it’s just who she is and who Jake was and they wanted to bring people together.