Out of doors Retailer returns to Utah as prime manufacturers boycott


Meteorite PR’s Eric Henderson wears the Safeback SBX and Db Snow Pro Vest at Tuesday’s Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City. The Db Snow Pro Vest is a wearable avalanche safety layer for skiers and snowboarders. Integrating the Safeback SBX system into the vest provides user-friendly suffocation protection for 90 minutes without the need for a mouthpiece during avalanche burial. | Rick Bowmer/AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Vendors selling hiking apparel, e-bikes, zippers and other outdoor gear gathered in Utah this week for one of the country’s longest-running leisure industry trade shows, marking the return to the deeply Republican state four-year boycott over its stance on land management.

Although organizers decided to move the bi-annual event back to Utah, many major ski and apparel brands skipped it, indicating a confluence of factors such as politics and changing industry dynamics. Notably absent were industry heavyweights such as Patagonia, The North Face and REI, who signed a letter urging show organizers not to return to Utah.

Debate over the location of the show, which can bring millions of dollars to the local economy in which it takes place, revolves around land management in southern Utah, specifically the boundaries of two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Many brands that have historically championed environmental protection believe Utah is a poor choice because state officials are reluctant to protect some lands the industry values.

The industry fair moved to Denver in 2018 after the Utah legislature successfully asked President Donald Trump to downsize the two monuments designated by President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton, respectively. Trump’s move opened up part of the country to mining and drilling, angering the outdoor recreation industry that relies on customers having access to public land.

But show organizer Emerald X said the four-year boycott was not effective. In a statement last year announcing it would be bringing the show back to Utah, the company said, “We will push back, not pull back.”

“We strongly believe that staying engaged and contributing together to the ongoing discussion, no matter how difficult, is much more constructive,” the statement said.

Utah continues to fight with the federal government over the monuments. After President Joe Biden restored the greatness of the two, the state joined rural counties in suing.

This week’s fair includes “community corners” and “campfire discussions” with local activists and officials about environmental protection and sustainability.

“Part of our renewed engagement in Salt Lake City with state and local officials is the environment. Access to the entire recreation area is vital to the health of the industry,” said Marisa Nicholson, the show’s director.

Nicholson acknowledged the absence of certain big brands, but said it’s natural for any show to evolve with an industry.

Peter Metcalf, Black Diamond’s founder and an activist who helped bring the show to Utah decades ago, said he doubts getting engaged again would change minds or politics.

“They assumed the industry would come anyway, but they were very short-sighted,” he said of the boycotts. “We had a seat at the table and were never served, so why stay at the table?”

Designers and vendors said they appreciate the event’s return to Salt Lake City, as its proximity to mountains and resort areas make it ideal for testing products.

Eric Henderson, a publicist representing brands that make jackets from recyclable materials, eco-friendly ski wax and avalanche jackets, said the outdoor industry remains uniquely committed to its advocacy goals and those returning to Utah want to return with renewed commitment . He said he hopes paying attention to the types of activities that can be practiced outdoors would help encourage people to care about protecting the country.

“That’s what we came back for on purpose,” he said.

Prior to her departure, Outdoor Retailer’s biannual trade show attracted an estimated $40 million in annual economic impact to Utah, benefiting hotels, restaurants and the Salt Palace Convention Center. The 2023 fair is significantly smaller than previous years due to the boycott and industry-wide trends that have placed less emphasis on exhibitions at the beginning of each year, brand officials said.