Inside Burton’s R&D Dream Factory with Resident-Archivist, Todd Kohlman

The man himself. Photo: Burton.

Look, I don’t like the name Craig. My last landlord’s name was Craig. He was impossibly slow when it came to repairs, and, just in general, seemed to not give a witch’s titty about anything other than receiving our rent payments. But then I was CC’d on an e-mail with the guys from Burton Snowboards, and they introduced me to their Craig, AKA “Craig’s“—an 10,000 sq ft R&D dream factory that explores innovative snowboard and product design. Their Craig seems geared on doing the future and its inhabitants right.

In an effort to indirectly restore order to those faulted by Craigs worldwide, we dropped a line to Todd Kohlman—Craig’s well-versed archivist and encyclopedia on all things Burton + snowboarding. TK shed some divine light on the facility, as well as how it works to progress the sport of snowboarding on a daily basis.

Alright, first question—who was Craig and what did he do to earn the naming rights to Burton’s experimental R&D snowboard laboratory?

Craig Kelly was a four-time World Champion (’86, ’87, ’88, ’89) and four-time US Open Winner (’87, ’88, ’89, ’90). After that he quit competing and went on to rewrite the history books of freeriding. He helped get the ball rolling so that riders today don’t necessarily have to get their name out there by competing, but can make it filming.

What made him even more unique was his engineering background. He could give dialed feedback to the product engineers and push new ideas for boards, boots, bindings, even jackets and pants—in their language. That too, set a new standard for how Burton developed new ideas, shapes and technology. Unfortunately, Craig passed away in an avalanche on Jan 20th, 2003. Jake wanted to name the facility in memory of Craig for all he did for Burton and snowboarding.

Craig’s is capable of producing over 1000 snowboards a day, but instead you guys prefer to build boards in uniquely small batches. What kind of process do idea + pitches go through before you guys start building?

It starts at the drawing board with ideas from the team, testers and engineers. The protos are built at Craig’s. We can build a board, get it on snow the next day and then change it up. It’s not a free-for-all but if there’s an idea or consideration during the build, we can take something in a direction to test it out. Behind the curtain, we have a number of tools we’ve built that essentially break the boards so we can measure their threshold. It’s pretty wild to see what those people do. But that we keep to ourselves, sorry.

Can you give us the wildest, perhaps most absurd idea that has ever received the “OK”?

This isn’t on the product side of things, but Gwar came and judged dog costumes at a Halloween party once. That was pretty wild.

It allows us to create ideas to put on snow in a day, as well as explore ideas without that massive oversight that a public company might have to answer to.

The facility also offers tours by appointment, right? Have you guys had any legends come in to check the operation out? Pro wrestlers? Japanese business magnates? Presidential candidates?

Yup, we offer free tours at 1pm and 3pm, Monday through Friday. You can sign up here.

We’ve had artist Jeff Koons, Ziggy Marley and the Wailers, Benedict Cumberbatch, the band Phosphorescent, Vermont’s governor Peter Shumlin. Not to mention any number of pro snowboarders—some who might not want their name mentioned because they don’t ride for us. Overall, we get a good variety of people.

Tough decisions. #BuiltOnBoards #Ridingisthereason

A photo posted by Burton Snowboards (@burtonsnowboards) on

Do you guys have a vending machine in your break room, and if so, what do you believe to be the machine’s most commonly purchased item?

Yup, probably one of the granola bars…bunch of damn hippies up here.

Can you describe the work culture over at Craig’s in a 90s era hip-hop lyric?

No Sleep Till Brooklyn + (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).

Work hard, play hard environment. (Related: Mike D.’s NYC Playlist).

What’s the raddest/most interesting piece of Burton history that lies in your archival establishment known as “The Barn”?

That’s a tough one, but I think when you take it all in, you realize that we’re blessed to have Jake’s old notes and notebooks from as early as the late 70s. At first they may not be the eye candy people are drawn to, but when you realize it’s a collective journal of a one man’s mission to take snowboarding beyond backyards and hills, it’s an inspiration for sure. On the flipside, Jeff Brushie’s dreadlock is pretty cool.

Photo: Burton.

Photo: Burton

What would you say that having Craig’s—this raw focus on open-minded R&D—has done for Burton as a business?

It allows us to create ideas to put on snow in a day, as well as explore ideas without that massive oversight that a public company might have to answer to. The goal is to create the best ride possible.

What’s next on the agenda for you guys? Take it day by day, thought by thought? Or are there some more heavily-developed concepts in the works?

We are always working on the future. We have to stay two years out, but with Craig’s it allows us to react quickly too.

If you dug this, check out our interview with Alex Dymond on Snow Beach his new photo book that chronicles the golden era of snowboarding in the late 80s. You can also out more about Burton and Craig’s over at the Burton website, and keep your eyes happy on the daily via their Burton’s Instagram.