Racy Snowboards Spur Protests, Boycotts

Burton Snowboards defends sexy images on new line of boards.

Oct. 30, 2008 — -- One image shows a blond woman, wearing sunglasses, a pouty look and nothing else. Another graphic features a woman smiling, wearing a baseball hat and her birthday suit. These eye-catching images aren't from the pages of Playboy; instead they can be found on some of the season's hottest snowboards from the Burton company.

But the sexy images have spurred protests; some ski shops have refused to sell the boards and several ski resorts, including Vail, have refused to allow employees to ride them on their mountains.

"I couldn't believe it," said Lezlee Sprenger, 47, of Essex, Vt. "I came across these boards and there were depictions of violence and naked women."

Sprenger lives in the heart of ski country and her 14-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and husband snowboard. Every year Sprenger visits the Web site for the Burlington, Vt.-based Burton Snowboard Co. to check out the latest equipment and gear. What she found this year shocked her. "It was just disgusting," she said.

The designs are part of the new limited-edition Coalition collection, sold only by premiere snowboard retailers around the country. The Love line features images of naked Playboy models and the Primo line consists of a series of drawings depicting a man cutting off his bloody fingers.

Graphics that adorn snowboards are a vital part of snowboarding culture and marketing. Bold colors and outrageous designs are part of the look that attracts millions of young kids to the sport every year.

Culture or no culture, Sprenger believes the boards are offensive. She fired off a letter and organized a protest march outside the company's headquarters, drawing a crowd of about 150 people Oct. 23.

News of the icy reaction to the snowboard line has become a hot topic in the boarding community.

Kelly Vance, editor of an online snowboarding magazine for women called Shred Betties, said her feelings about the images are mixed.

"There's been stuff that's been worse. I think female snowboarders are just a little bit jaded by now. ? So we're not too concerned," said Vance.

While she thinks the images are definitely disrespectful toward women, Vance adds that the Burton company has done a lot for female boarders.

"They were one of the first companies to come out with specific products for women. They really flaunt their female boarding team. So in some ways they're really supportive," said Vance.

Vance also noted that what attracts young kids often repels their parents. "What better way to sell the boards than to get a bunch of mothers and families upset by something."

And this certainly isn't the first time snowboards and suggestive images have gone together. In 2003, Sims Snowboards teamed up with the porn company Vivid Videos to create a line of boards featuring pictures of a naked Jenna Jameson and other porn stars.

And boards currently sold by Vermont-based Rome Snowboards feature the words "Live Nude Girls" and "Bend Over Babes." But the Burton company is a behemoth in the industry so its designs attract notice.

On the Transworld Snowboarding Magazine Web site, the Burton Love Series received a short, positive write-up that said the "mellow flex and a midwide shape" should make for a "sweet park board."

But the comments were less complimentary. BoardChick wrote: "Why do they have to have naked women on them. Shame on Burton." And "If your board rocks it shouldn't need porn on it," wrote WakeGirl05.

Travis Mclain, 29, and the owner of Radio Boardshop in Aspen, Colo., has had the boards in stock for a few weeks. Mclain first saw the boards at a trade show and thinks they've been "toned down since then."

Mclain said the images are comparable to something you might see on "primetime television or an R-rated movie." And, he adds, he never considered not stocking the boards because of the racy content.

"I never even really questioned it. I didn't think it would create such drama," said Mclain.

The drama hasn't escaped the notice of the large ski resorts as they gear up for the beginning of another ski season.

In fact several large resort areas have crafted policies to ban the boards at least for their employees.

Vail Resorts -- the owner of five major ski areas including Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge in Colorado -- will not allow its "employees to use skis or snowboards while on duty or in uniforms, which contain inappropriate, offensive, suggestive or derogatory pictures or statements, " according to representative Kelly Ladyga.

At Killington Resort in Vermont, company spokesman Tom Horrocks also said employees will not be allowed to "use any equipment deemed offensive to our guests while on duty."

However, all the resort owners agree that there's not much they can do if a ticket-buying boarder shows up at the mountain carrying one of the Burton Love boards.

Burton bills itself as the "world's largest snowboarding company." It's certainly the best known. Jake Burton Carpenter started the business in a small garage in Vermont in the mid-'70s.

He created the contemporary snowboard by designing a slightly different surface to an existing sled toy called a snurfer. Since then, the Burton company has grown into a multimillion-dollar concern with offices worldwide and it's as much of a Vermont success story as Ben and Jerry's ice cream.

The company has refused to meet with protesters and has had little to say about the controversy except to issue a written statement that reads, in part, "the Burton Coalition line and the Playboy limited edition snowboards were created at the request of two of Burton's professional snowboarders."

"Both Burton and Playboy were founded on principles of individual freedom and the collaboration has resulted in boards that reflect this attitude. The image on the boards is tastefully done. ? The snowboards will be fully wrapped with an 18+age disclaimer to purchase," the statement reads.

Of course, the problem for Lezlee Sprenger and others is that the boards won't be fully wrapped on the slopes, leaving parents to contemplate the prospect of their tween staring at a nearly naked Playboy centerfold.

Karen Tronsgard-Scott, the director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, also attended the protest in Burlington last week.

Tronsgard-Scott believes Burton's refusal to talk to its critics is disheartening.

"You know snowboarding is a really edgy sport. It's built on being edgy. Snowboarding is supposed to stick it to the man. But Burton is a multimillion-dollar company. They are the man. They have a lot of power and influence. ? This feels like 'David and Goliath' a little bit."

Still, Sprenger isn't disheartened. She believes the protest she started from her home computer is taking root; she can list the ski resorts that have taken action.

"Smuggler's Notch, Sugarbush, Killington. We've also heard that a really big ski outfitter in the West won't carry the boards now so it's cross-country. Our little voices here in Burlington, Vt., we're having an effect."