Chris Doyle is a mad scientist. And at Burton Snowboards, where he’s known as “the Mad Scientist,” he’s a leading visionary with extreme passion in the field of adaptive snowboarding—creating innovative gear that adapts to individuals’ abilities and needs in order to make snowboarding more inclusive.
“Our philosophy since we started the project is accessibility, adjustability, and durability. The idea is to make snowboarding inclusive for all riders,” said Doyle.
And that’s why Burton, Microsoft, and the students at the University of Vermont have come together to help create and design custom Step On® binding systems in collaboration with adaptive riders.
A love for snowboarding and innovation
Doyle has always been a “take it apart to see how it works” kind of guy. And since 1996, he’s been the Innovative Rapid Prototype Engineer on Burton’s R&D team. But as far back as the beginnings of the sport in the 1960s, he’s always loved snowboarding.
From tweaking his own board, boots, and bindings in the early days to working directly with pros to develop new prototypes that push what’s possible on snow, he’s dedicated his life to moving the sport forward. But for Doyle, his driving force isn’t just about what’s happening on the slopes—it’s also about who’s on the slopes.
At Burton, everything we do here is for the riders and we are very rider driven.Chris Doyle, Innovative Rapid Prototype Engineer, Burton
Inclusivity for all riders
When Doyle started working with engineering students at the University of Vermont (UVM) two years ago, it only made sense to integrate ideas from these young passionate minds who care about impacting the future.
The collective team is exclusively designing on Microsoft Surface devices—designing to inspire and going beyond what is ordinary for these snowboarders—making adjustments using the touch-screen capabilities and the Surface Pen to optimize designs with precision ink, then output to 3D.
Maggie Leon, a UVM student, has played a lead role with Doyle in creating the smart boot technology. In particular, she’s been working on a toe adapter that will eliminate the sole plate altogether—a development that enables amputees with artificial feet a simpler way to insert their foot in and out of the adaptive boot.
Collaboration on and off the slope
Riding isn’t just a sport, it’s an attitude, a mindset, and a culture that is represented on and off the mountain with adaptive world-class snowboarders, Mike Schultz and Kiana Clay. Both athletes suffered life-changing accidents with Mike losing his leg during a professional snowmobile race and Kiana receiving a diagnosis of full paralysis in her dominant right arm after a motocross crash.
The injuries have pushed the athletes to continue on with their passion of riding and aligned perfectly with the Burton philosophy of accessibility, adjustability, and durability.
Mike Schultz. 2019 World Para Snowboard Champion
In 2019 Mike won his first gold in Wold Para Snowboard Championship in Pyha, Finland following his great success at the 2018 Winter Paralympics where Mike brought home gold and silver snowboarding medals.
Mike is also the founder BioDapt Inc, a prosthetics business. He is the architect behind some of the most cutting edge prosthetic components out there and has now been collaborating with engineers to create a boot that will allow the ankle the ability to change angles and to have a Burton-inspired insole which means more movement of the foot.
Kiana Clay. Adaptive snowboarder
Kiana competes in adaptive snowboarding, surfing, and motocross, and hopes to qualify for the US Paralympic team.
Since her accident Kiana has fully adapted to the one handed lifestyle. She's learned how to write and draw again, as well as play Xbox with her feet, put her hair up with a doorknob, and live everyday life as normal as anyone else would.
“Binding up my boots has always been a struggle and slowed me down in the mornings. I used to have to use my teeth to tighten my inner boot, but Doyle and Maggie came up with a much more efficient and faster system for me.”
– Kiana Clay, Snowboard competitor, 2022 Paralympics hopeful
Burton and Microsoft are working together to enable people to achieve more by building a rewarding, collaborative, high-performance community. And the collaboration between the athletes, students and Doyle is what makes this project so exciting.
Being an athlete and winning gold medals—that’s pretty rad. But when I can personally help somebody, it’s much bigger.Mike Schultz, Gold medalist, 2018 Winter Paralympics
The data and insights that Mike and Kiana bring to the project will form the foundation to build a snowboarding community that’s more inclusive of all abilities.
It’s an ambitious goal—and one that’s as rewarding for the engineers as it is for the riders.