Steep has Burt’s name on it
Tom Burt carves down the slopes of Alpine Meadows Ski Resort on his snowboard with absolute control. He is fluid and looks like a man made of flowing water as he navigates the slopes on this sun-drenched spring day.
Considered to be a pioneer among those in the snowboard community, Burt, 36, is known for his mountaineering expeditions, which have taken him on steep descents around the globe to places such as Alaska, Peru, New Zealand, Bolivia and Europe at elevations of 20,000 feet plus.
But his steepest descent was achieved at Donner Summit, just a few years ago. It was a descent he had scoped for six years, but one that needed the appropriate snow fall. So one day in February, after it had snowed for nearly 30 days in a row, he plunged down the 70 degree pitch without a scratch. But it took some quick maneuvering including a front flip, which resulted in a 60 foot free fall, to avoid a disastrous collision with jutting boulders.
Burt said to perform on such gnarly terrain, it takes extreme concentration in which he reaches a transcendental state of consciousness.
“Many times it’s very scary with rocks and cliffs, and you can really injure yourself or kill yourself,” Burt said. “I turn that fear into focus . . . You become very aware – hyper aware. It’s kind of like time slows down and you have time to do all the things you need to do.”
Although his snowboarding has made him a world traveler, Burt has not moved far from his boyhood stomping grounds – tucked in the lush pine greenery of Lake Tahoe’s North Shore. Driving from his Kings Beach home to Alpine Meadows, he points out the house where he grew up, only two minutes away in Tahoe Vista – a rustic structure built by his great grandfather, the first of four generations to live at Lake Tahoe.
Burt grew up a skier, and at 4 years old carved his first turns at Alpine Meadows.
But in 1983, he bought his first snowboard, a Sims for $50. He hiked up Mount Rose and got his first taste of riding a board on snow. Not a completely foreign concept, after all he had skateboarded and even surfed a few times, but when he and his friends decided to snowboard the back country steeps they had conquered on skis a new world opened.
He got his first real taste of snowboarding glory in the mid 1980s when he was filmed taking jumps in a Juicy Fruit commercial. He was paid $12,000. It may not have been a fortune, but it was enough to make him put his fledgling career as a math teacher on hold. He never taught again.
He has since appeared on National Geographic Explorer and in several commercials, snowboarding films, and been featured in magazines such as Outside and Snowboarding.
Now Burt is a backcountry guide in Alaska for Out of Bounds and he is sponsored by O’Neill, Da Kine, Avalanche and Alpine Meadows, where he also organizes the Tom Burt Big Air Snowboard Classic, a charity event for the Boys and Girls Club, which will be held April 28 at Alpine Meadows.
But for Burt it is all about snowboarding, travel and mountaineering. This spring he will take yet another trip to Bolivia.
When asked where in the world is the best snow, he gives a sly grin before answering.
“Wherever it just snowed,” he said. “It could be good anywhere.”
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