Usually, it's the student who drops out of school to become a professional snowboarder, not the teacher. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Tom Burt did in 1987, flush with cash from being featured riding in a nationally televised commercial for Juicy Fruit. Within two seasons, Tom would be named as a Rider Of The Year by International Snowboard Magazine. Even though Tom placed 3rd in the World Halfpipe Championships in 1985—two spots behind high school classmate Terry Kidwell—the 4th generation Tahoe local was more motivated by getting out of bounds than by getting out of the pipe.
In 1990, Tom began to explore AK and in 1991 he—alongside riding partner Jim Zellers—made the first documented descent of the 20,320-foot tall Mt. McKinley. For Tom, merely making it to the bottom in one piece, like many celebrated European off-piste practitioners, wasn't nearly enough. Burt aspired to flow from peak to valley, incorporating as many terrain features as possible, regardless of consequence. This meant mapping the run in your mind and making note of key turns, cliffs and ways to keep the run continuous. In other words, no side-slipping. Like a fine wine, Tom's early Standard Films segments get better with age. With freeriding achieving prominence in today's shred cinema landscape, viewers have come to better understand the nuances of line selection, conditions, exposure and above all else, flow.
Watching Tom make some of the first top to bottom descents opens up a new level of appreciation for a rider often regarded as an anomaly during the peak of his output in the mid-90s. It's no coincidence that Burt's Totally Board bio appears to be the blueprint for how Gigi Rüf, Nicolas Müller or Travis Rice chart a backcountry descent, since ever-the-teacher Tom has spent the latter half of his career guiding elite film crews in The Last Frontier. Tom has also returned to the contest circuit, only now as a judge of the Freeride World Tour and other one-off events like Ultra Natural.