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.
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.
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 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. 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.
“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 Sports 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: 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 story, they intentionally left the wood near the stove to dry.