The Carpenters Pledge to Rebuild the Stone Hut

On December 23, the Stone Hut burned to the ground after Jake and Donna Carpenter’s sons left a log near a wood stove. The family behind Burton Snowboards has been working behind the scenes for several weeks to rebuild Stone Hut. Here’s what they have pledged to do: 

In mid-January, between a whirlwind of business trips, Jake Carpenter was having dinner with a mutual friend, Dr. Bryan Huber at the bar at TopNotch’s The Roost. I stopped to say hello to Bryan. Jake was in a great mood. He was, for the first time in a year, healthy.

For three months last year, he’d been unable to move or speak, lying paralyzed in a hospital bed as his body fought Guillain-Barré syndrome, a struggle John Branch wrote about in The New York Times in  “Notes from the Abyss” , published in late December.

“How are you feeling now?” I asked. Jake talked about his sickness, how much closer it had brought him to his family. He pulled up a picture of the notes he had written during the months when he lay in a hospital bed paralyzed, unable to speak or move. His wife Donna had saved them. He showed me a photo she’d made for him with the notes scribbled on the margins.

“That was the best Christmas present ever,” he said.

Burton Snowboards owners, Jake Burton Carpenter and his wife Donna Carpenter, on a late November hike around Stowe Mountain Resort on Vermont's Mt. Mansfield with their energetic dog, Lily. (BEN SARLE, for The Wall Street Journal)
Burton Snowboards owners, Jake Burton Carpenter and his wife Donna Carpenter, on a late November hike around Stowe Mountain Resort on Vermont’s Mt. Mansfield. (Photo: BEN SARLE, for The Wall Street Journal)

His worst Christmas present ever? Learning on a rainy December 24 that the Stone Hut, a place the Carpenter family had spent many Christmas nights, had burned to the ground and that his two sons were involved.

As The Stowe Reporter noted in a story it broke this week, the Carpenters’ sons George, 24, and Timothy, 19, had gone up on December 23, 2015 to the Stone Hut (the state-owned, 80-year-old cabin at the top of Stowe’s Four Runner quad), to get it ready for the friends whom they thought were coming up later. “It was an act of consideration for others,” said Jake Carpenter. “They went up there on a bad, rainy day to do something for others and made a dumb mistake.”  Before leaving at 2:40 pm, George had set a wet log near the wood stove to dry, resting against the stove. He stoked the coals and left the door open a crack so the hut would be warm when his friends arrived later. The lifts closed at 4 pm and he expected they would be up before then.

The friends never arrived and it was not until later that evening that the Carpenter boys found out. When they heard the news about the fire the next day, they rushed to the mountain but it was too late.  George went to the police that day to give a full report and claim responsibility. The police suggested they call the fire inspector that Monday. They did.

“It was devastating for them,” Donna Carpenter, their mother and the CEO of Burton, said on a call from a business trip in Austria on February 19. “When the kids were young, we tried to spend every Christmas Day at the Stone Hut. That was what they remember about Christmas growing up.”

““These are not some spoiled kids who were negligent: They made a mistake, but they owned it and went to the police on their own. Think about it,” she continued, “for the last year they had been dealing with their father unable to speak or move and nearly dying, and then to have this place that meant so much to them place burn down…” Donna’s voice trailed off and started to crack.

stone_hut4-2

In the past few days since the story has broken, the Carpenters have been under fire for not publicly claiming responsibility or offering to help.

“We never tried to hide what happened. We told people we’d do anything it took and contribute whatever the cost to rebuild it,” Donna said.

“We didn’t make a public statement as this was a personal affair, not a Burton one, and not one we were going to run to the Stowe Reporter with.” The Stowe paper had repeatedly reached out to them: why not return the calls? “We had been traveling out of the country like crazy for work. And, honestly, the Stowe Reporter  has  not been especially kind to us, so it is not a paper I respond to,” she said.

Though the Carpenters never put out a press release and no media reported who had been responsible, many of the facts have been widely circulated around Stowe. For years, the Carpenters have booked the Stone Hut for days at a time, gaining preference in the lottery system by booking several consecutive nights at once, and then doled them out to family and friends. It’s not an uncommon practice and one that actually helps ensure the hut is fully booked and brings in revenue for the state park system.

Though the Carpenters could afford to stay just about anywhere, the simple, one-room Hut with wooden bunks had been a special place for them. “It’s been our refuge, a sanctuary in the world to us,” said Donna. When Jake created his first and only signature snowboard he called it The Stone Hut, built about 100 of them in the Craig’s prototype shop in Burlington and signed every one by hand.

Jake has only made one signature board in his life, The Stone Hut. And he signed all 100 made.
Jake has only made one signature board in his life, The Stone Hut. And he signed all 100 made.
Carpenter crafted the Stone Hut boardsat the prototype shop Craig's Place at Burton's Burlington headquarters.
Carpenter crafted the Stone Hut boards at  Burton’s prototype shop, Craig’s Place in Burlington.

“So what about the Stone Hut?” I asked Jake that night at The Roost. “You could write a check for it tomorrow, but a lot of people love that place and probably want to contribute, too. Can we get a group together and start fundraising to rebuild this, perhaps with a match from you?”

“I want to do that,” he replied, “can you connect me with the right people at the state?”

Having worked at the state as Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development, I said I could. I called Commissioner Michael Snyder at the Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation the next day. He was out due to a death in the family. I then emailed him and emailed Secretary Deborah Markowitz on January 20. On January 25, I got a reply:

“As you know, I have great interest and welcome your assistance and support. While we do hope to rebuild, and we are moving well through the various steps needed to get us there, we are not quite ready to launch a full-on campaign in support of those efforts,” Commissioner Michael Snyder wrote.

I reached out again by phone and told him the Carpenters wanted to help rebuild. “Can you give us a ballpark of what it would cost, 100K, or more?” I asked back. On January 29, Commissioner Snyder wrote back.

It may take some time for the state’s insurance carrier to sort out the details, but we all agree you are correct we should take advantage of the timing and move ahead with a fundraising effort. We appreciate both your encouragement and your indulgence as we wrestle with all the complexities of this. We are reaching out to our partners at Vermont Parks Forever to launch the campaign on our behalf. The goal will be to raise $100,000 toward rebuilding the Stone Hut. While it is still unclear how much the insurance will cover, we are confident we will need at least that additional amount to complete the project. Any donations received in excess of our immediate needs will be used to make the Stone Hut better than it was and/or to help maintain it into the future. It is conceivable that this fundraising could also support other Parks projects.”

Though Snyder told The Stowe Reporter that support was pouring in,  the Vermont Parks Forever donation site showed only 31 donations at the time of this writing, with an average amount of $139, barely enough to buy a new wood stove  and chimney.

“The Stone Hut will be rebuilt,” said Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Commissioner Snyder’s boss, in a call on February 19. “There’s no question of that. The Carpenters are good people, they built The Swimming Hole for Stowe and have done a lot for the state.” The Carpenters built the $6 million dollar pool and gym facility and set it up as a non-profit with pricing competitive with what a YMCA might offer and scholarships available.

“We love Vermont, we loved the Stone Hut so much and we’ve always intended to give whatever it takes to rebuild,” said Donna. “We’ve pledged to donate $100,000 right off and, better yet, match whatever the state can raise on vermontparksforver.org,” Donna confirmed, “and if they need more, we’ll do that, too.”

And then she added: “We just are not the types to make a big public announcement about it.”

Editor’s Note:  Vermont Ski + Ride could have gone public sooner with this story. Instead, we chose to do what we could behind the scenes to get the Stone Hut rebuilt and help support other state parks. We are contributing and invite you to make contributions via vermontparksforever.org too.

 

Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this story a subhead read that the Carpenters had “accidentally” left a log near the stove to dry. As is noted in the main story, they intentionally left the wood near the stove to dry.

Lisa Lynn

After traveling around the world and skiing in more than 50 resorts, I settled in Vermont. I love it here and love working with my family editing VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.

20 thoughts on “The Carpenters Pledge to Rebuild the Stone Hut

  • February 20, 2016 at 8:52 PM
    Permalink

    Lisa, Your article was a breath of fresh air and thank you for reaching out. Jake and Donna and the Carpenter family have done so much for Stowe,Vermont and the snowboard industry. Thank You!!
    Chuck Heingartner and Family

  • February 21, 2016 at 12:37 AM
    Permalink

    It’s disappointing and frustrating that this information didn’t come out sooner. A strange decision for the Carpenters not to more freely provide this explanation. We all know Jake and family loved the Stone Hut. But a clear apology is deserved by ALL who have loved the Stone Hut over the years. The fact that this was like pulling teeth leaves a bad taste in my mouth. A poor PR/family move on their part. And still no word from George? He’s 24, not 10. It was a mistake. Yes. I feel sorry. But it’s time to own up and help smooth things over now.

  • February 21, 2016 at 7:26 AM
    Permalink

    With great wealth comes great responsibility. Even if you don’t like the local paper.

    • March 5, 2016 at 7:29 PM
      Permalink

      Kudos to Donna and Jake! Some people will always look at things only from their own perspective. We have tried to dry logs next to a wood stove at our camp numerous times and then gone out for a hike. Just too close this time. The question is always, how close is too close. Lessons learned by all of us and I am 74.

  • February 21, 2016 at 9:14 AM
    Permalink

    Thanks for your article Lisa and shame on the Stowe Reporter. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to have a sense of how badly the Carpenter family feel about the accident at the Stone Hut. Let’s have some empathy for a family who has done nothing but support Stowe Mountain, the Stowe community and our state…more often than not, without seeking public attention.

  • February 21, 2016 at 1:20 PM
    Permalink

    I guess this explains why and how many long time loyal Stone Hut guests haven’t been successful in the annual lottery for the last 7 years in spite of 5 night requests and any myriad of potential strategies. Hopefully we can get back to a fair system for all to enjoy such a fantastic rare and different resource. My vote would be to rebuild exactly as it was.

  • February 21, 2016 at 6:44 PM
    Permalink

    Yea I see the bull shit here. 2 Months of avoidance. Its really bull shit. They should have gone public in a week and they should lead the effort to rebuild. I don’t care how busy they are or if they like the Stowe Reporter. The Free press would have loved that nugget. Just another example of rich people being treated different. They should rebuild it and pay for the whole thing. They burned it down and they can well afford to pay for rebuilding it. IT will not stress them one bit to spend 250K. Man up Jake the economy has been good to you. Give back!

  • February 21, 2016 at 7:43 PM
    Permalink

    Accidents happen. Thank you for the well-written article and giving the Burton-Carpenters an opportunity to finally get their story out. Hopefully the stone hut can be rebuilt as well if not better than it was before. I like the Editor’s note too. Too bad so many people have reading comprehension problems.

  • February 22, 2016 at 2:13 PM
    Permalink

    Glad to hear Jake is back on his feet! I have followed his career all the way back to the earlier 80’s and I have nothing but respect or the man and his business. He has proven time and time again that he and his family and his business will always be from Vermont and their love for Stowe and the community of Stowe is real! At least from my perspective, the Carpenters have made decisions personally and professionally to be VERMONT. When I read the Stowe Reporter’s Report on the Stone Hut last week I knew the paper was looking to stir the pot, it’s a great local paper and in this small town sometimes that’s what they do, and that’s all about living in a small town. Thanks for your article Lisa, even though it wasn’t reported any where until now I knew the Carpenters would provide the correct support for the rebuild. Donna’s correct it’s a private family matter, and would any other family from Stowe need to put out a press release? NO!! So why should they. It’s not about Burton.

  • February 22, 2016 at 4:59 PM
    Permalink

    It’s great to read that the Stone Hut will be re-built, and that the Carpenters are preparing to make a large financial contribution towards the rebuilding. Thank you, Carpenters!

    Nevertheless, echoing David Blake above, I hope the lottery system is administered more fairly in the future so that access to this rare and special public resource is distributed as fairly as possible. If, as reported, the Carpenters “… have booked the Stone Hut for weeks at a time, gaining preference in the lottery system by booking several consecutive nights at once, and then doled them out to family and friends …” then that is a violation of the lottery rules, or the rules are being waived for the Carpenters. The lottery rules say that “[m]ultiple requests from the same party are considered an attempt to bypass the lottery system and all of those requests will be considered last.” The officials running the lottery report a 15% success rate. So, the Stone Hut is over subscribed, and the vast majority of entries are turned away. Yet, somehow, the Carpenters, who under the rules should be considered last, are batting 100% over 5 years, with many multi-reservation years (including 3 last year).

    The Carpenters are undoubtedly responsible for many good things, and have had some tough issues to overcome lately, but it’s hard to conclude anything here other than a violation of the lottery system.

    “Gaming” the lottery system in this way may or may not be an uncommon practice, but the Stone Hut is always booked and it does not need any “help” to ensure full bookings. The lottery instructions note that there is “extremely high demand” for reservations in the Stone Hut. If the Carpenters (or others) want to help bring in more revenue for the state park system, they don’t need to resort to “gaming” the lottery for the Stone Hut. As the author notes, it’s easy to contribute to the Foundation.

  • February 22, 2016 at 8:21 PM
    Permalink

    Thank you, Lisa, for a well written article.

    I am glad the story of the Stone Hut fire is finally public. Accidents do happen, but it took an impressive combination of mistakes to take down the sturdy hut that had survived many a raucous gathering for 80 years. After the fire, I expected to hear a quick “mea culpa” and whoever was there would take their licks and get on with life. I said at the time that as soon as the group that burned it down made a donation to rebuild it, I would be happy to make a donation as well. But no one came forward and so when the Stowe Reporter finally broke the story, I decided to make a donation anyway. With the caveat that the lottery process be reviewed to ensure fairness for everyone. And I hope it will.

    I also hope that the Stone Hut will be rebuilt as closely as possible to the most recent layout, with a similarly oversized wood stove. The wood stove, the big tables and benches, the lofts, and the total lack of electricity all combine to create a special magic on the top of the mountain.

    As for the money the Burton company has so generously offered to help rebuild the Stone Hut, I applaud that, but rather than giving a lump sum, the offer to match the donations made by others is a good one and would encourage more of us to make a donation.

    The Stone Hut is a fantastic gift built by the hard workers of the CCC for those who enjoy our mountain. The sturdy stone walls have hopefully survived the fire. Maybe the Vermont State Parts Forever foundation can organize a volunteer day this spring and invite those interested to help rebuild the Stone Hut, sort of like a Habitat for Humanity project. If someone lugs up the beer, I’m happy to swing a hammer.

    • February 23, 2016 at 10:57 AM
      Permalink

      Robert, those are great suggestions and we will share them with both the state and the Carpenters! May I post your thoughts and see how many other volunteers we might sign up? –Lisa

      • February 23, 2016 at 12:39 PM
        Permalink

        Of course! May the spirit of the Stone Hut and the CCC live on! Charlie Lord would be pleased.

  • February 23, 2016 at 11:22 AM
    Permalink

    Excellent post by Robert. I will be happy to donate $ and volunteer time to help the rebuilding project with the same caveat … the lottery process must return to fairness and equal opportunity for all.

  • Pingback: An Open Letter to the Stowe Reporter - VT SKI + RIDE

  • February 29, 2016 at 7:59 PM
    Permalink

    The article states that the Carpenters book The Stone Hut for weeks at a time. That may have been true in the past. But thankfully, reservations are now limited to no more than 5 nights in a row – at least, that’s how the lottery system is supposed to work, unless it’s rigged. So many of us love staying there and more people should be able to enjoy this magical place, not just a select few. That said, under the old system, I once stayed in the hut for 9 days in a row in April 2010. I’ve stayed there before, but I will always remember the other-worldly feeling of being up there on top of the mountain for an extended period of time.

    Very glad the hut is being rebuilt. And it is a bit disturbing that it took so long for the truth to come out.

    Thank you for this very well, written article.

  • March 1, 2016 at 11:39 AM
    Permalink

    How is burning down (albeit accidentally) a public building on public lands a “personal affair”? I also feel sorry for Jake and his illness but he is now healthy enough to be traveling around the world on business. What does that have to do with the hut burning down? Lets hope the lottery returns to fairness so other families can spend Christmas on the mountain…

  • March 2, 2016 at 5:10 PM
    Permalink

    The bottom line is that stupidity prevailed………………..so………………………..Burton, take responsibility that now ( after the fact, and that it finally came out ) , has come to be!! You can afford to foot the whole bill, which is the right thing to do…..do you agree???

  • Pingback: Stone Hut reservations are live - VT SKI + RIDE

Comments are closed.