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Political and business trends threaten the future of outdoor entertainment

DENVER (AP) — A ski business owner leans against a wall with his skis, arranged to dazzle passers-by.

“What am I doing? I feel like I’m wasting my time,” Meier Skis owner Ted Eynon said. “Man, that ain’t what it used to be.”

The Outdoor Retailer Snow Show was just a shadow of its former self at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver last month. Perhaps a third of its size in 2019. The coronavirus is the easy scapegoat.

But historic schisms in the outdoor community are resurfacing and threatening to tear apart not just an event that, before the pandemic, drew tens of thousands of buyers, sellers and outdoor community leaders. The fight for the future of Outdoor Retailer threatens a vibrant outdoor community that influences national policy on public lands, climate and diversity.

As Denver negotiates a new long-term contract to keep Outdoor Retailer shows twice a year, Utah is courting the industry it lost in 2017 when outdoor leaders lambasted the state’s stance on public land and left the show’s 20-year-old home in Salt Lake City for Colorado.

These same outdoor businesses and community leaders continue to criticize Utah’s continued opposition to the restoration of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Amid political clamor, pandemic upheaval, supply chain challenges and growing demand for outdoor recreation, the outdoor industry is fragmenting into divisive camps, threatening the carefully constructed unity that positioned the outdoor recreation community as a political and economic force capable of changing the country. Politics.

Major ski and snowboard brands have decamped to Outdoor Retailer for their own show in Utah. Winter sports enthusiasts say Salt Lake City is a third cheaper than Denver. Emerald X, the publicly traded owner of Outdoor Retailer that hosts 141 other conventions, asks attendees about a possible return to Salt Lake City.

The biggest outdoor brands, such as Burton, Patagonia, Arc’teryx and The North Face, were not present at the Denver show. Many are pushing the show owner to include consumers, which would change the historic business focus of Outdoor Retailer. Outdoors industry advocates who left Salt Lake City years ago because of Utah’s support for a Trump administration move to reduce the size of national monuments oppose the possibility of a return to Beehive State.

And behind the political shenanigans on public lands are retailers and manufacturers who are completely questioning trade shows. For decades they met twice a year to buy and sell. Over the past two years of pandemic-related events, they have learned to ride and manage without coming together.

“The real issue here isn’t Colorado versus Utah or public lands. It’s about the longevity of an industry trade show,” said Nick Sargent, director of Snowsports Industries America, a non-profit, member-owned organization that has held its Snow Show once a year since 1954 before selling to Emerald and merging with Outdoor Retailer in 2017. .

Hundreds of ski and snowboard brands gathered in Salt Lake City for their very own Winter Sports Market show the weekend before OR. They did not attend the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show, as they had in previous years. Last summer, 421 retailers and hundreds of gear brands attended the new Big Gear Show in Utah, competing with the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

The winter sports brands heading to Utah weren’t a political statement, Sargent said.

“For them, it’s just good business,” he said.

These winter marks tell Sargent that the Colorado is too expensive. That’s why they left Outdoor Retailer and moved to the competing show in Utah, he said.

“You have to look at this thing holistically and say what the problem is? Well, winter sports will tell you that’s the price. In Denver, with the unions, the space, the hotels…it’s about 33% more expensive here than Salt Lake,” Sargent said. “You have values ​​and you have business. Winter sports are business. That’s not to say that values ​​aren’t important because they are really, really important. But we put business first.

But for others in the outdoor community, values ​​trump dollars when it comes to trade shows. The Outdoor Industry Association met with Emerald and told them that as long as Utah opposes President Joe Biden’s recent restoration of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, the outdoor industry is totally opposed. at a trade show in that state.

“We’ve learned over the past few years in Denver that we’re stronger when we’re together,” said Outdoor Industry Association executive director Lise Aangeenbrug. “We have an economy of scale with a show that serves everyone. So the idea of ​​not having everyone together at a concert really bothers us.

“At the same time, we really care deeply about public lands,” she added. “We hear that ski brands think Denver is expensive. We believe that the majority of our brands would consider public lands rather than other issues. »

Many brands are asking Emerald to consider a user-friendly item for a revamped outdoor retailer in Denver. Since its inception 40 years ago, Outdoor Retailer has been a business-to-business event and closed to the public. It may be time to welcome consumers. In this way, the brand could highlight not only its novelties, but also its policies on climate, diversity and public lands.

“They really want to speak directly with the consumer and having a closed, industry-only show doesn’t meet a lot of their goals,” Aangeenbrug said. “So maybe there’s a way to do both?”

Jake Roach has taken the Eagle-based QuietKat e-bike team to numerous trade shows over the past year, including the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Hunting and Fishing Shot Show. All shows saw record crowds as COVID kept people home.

He sees new people moving to Colorado for an outdoor lifestyle and he would love to see Outdoor Retailer harness that energy. He thinks the show should stay in Colorado, but open up to more people.

“How can the show include the passion of all these people who come to Colorado? How can we make it interactive and open to everyone? Roach said. “This model, right now, it feels old and stale.”

When Emerald’s Interbike bike show in Las Vegas collapsed in 2019, the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California became a place where brands, retailers and consumers mingled around a race of bike.

“Outdoor Retailer should become an experience for everyone,” Roach said. “That way, everyone will come. That way, it will be an event where, when it’s over, everyone looks forward to the next one, not wondering if they’re even going to the next one.

Marisa Nicholson, Emerald X’s Director of Outdoor Retailer Shows, has spent the year “taking the pulse” of show attendees. A survey in June found the outdoor industry is stressed about safeguarding the supply chain of products from Asia, impacting lead times for retailers and brands to place orders in the rays.

Before Emerald signed a new long-term deal with Denver, Nicholson sent out another survey two weeks ago to thousands of outdoor retailer attendees asking for show dates and location.

The results of those two investigations will inform a decision that Nicholson says should come within the next two weeks.

It balances the business needs of manufacturers and retailers with the values ​​industry places on public lands. “How can we ensure that we support each other’s business needs and those initiatives that are essential for the business and for our planet and our ability as humans to continue to connect with nature?” she asked.

Nicholson said many of the biggest brands in the industry have grown into massive corporations with business models that don’t need trade shows. (It’s a common whisper heard in the world of outdoor retailers: Big brands have wanted to get out of national shows for years, and the political tussle on Utah’s public lands provides an exit strategy that allows them to give feel like they are leaving the salons in a noble fight.)

“But for 80% of our customers who are small and medium-sized, they don’t have these big buying groups and they have a big representative force and showrooms. They need this show to write orders and do business,” she said.

Sargent, with SIA, said it’s entirely possible to passionately support public lands and do business in Utah, where he lives.

“We have to be smarter about it and we have to use our political power and we have to use our industry vote to say, maybe we’ll come to Utah, but if we do, we have some caveats. , we want to work on these public land issues,” he said. “COVID has shown us that we don’t really need a trade show. But we need community. We are stronger together under one roof. If we can find a place where we can be together, we are strong, our voices are better, and we can do more.

Eynon had a quiet show. Its Denver-based Meier skis were one of the few ski makers at last week’s Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. It was one of hundreds of ski brands.

It does not interfere in public land policy. He’ll take his 13-year-old business to any trade show where he can reach new retailers and sell more skis. But it makes a statement in other ways.

Meier Skis, which uses Colorado-harvested beetle wood for ski cores, has always been an eco-friendly brand, Eynon said. This season, he’s partnered with the Colorado State Forest Service to plant a sapling in a burnt-out Colorado forest for every pair of skis he sells. Last season, it removed single-use plastic from all of its products and production processes.

“Look, we can’t lose half of our customer base, whether it’s retailers or consumers, by taking a grand position. If our participation in a show in Utah makes sense for us as a company, we will,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll continue to pioneer meaningful, eco-friendly practices that make a difference.”

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion