The once-mammoth trade show for outdoor retailers is back in Salt Lake City, kicking off Tuesday with a three-day run amid a much more subdued but still-busy gathering of outdoor gear makers, service providers and industrial buyers.
The lavish bi-annual events made their home in Salt Lake City for over 20 years before relocating to Denver in 2018 amid swirling controversy over land use issues. While the shows regularly attracted over 20,000 visitors and tens of millions of dollars in economic activity for their host cities before COVID-19 wrecked mass gatherings, this year’s restart represents a new path and atmosphere for the shows. The show’s organizers anticipated it Week about 10,000 to 12,000 visitors and present over 400 exhibitors in the Salt Palace Convention Center. Overall, numbers are down about 50% since Outdoor Retailer last visited the Utah capital.
German outdoor equipment and clothing specialist Jack Wolfskin is exhibiting at Outdoor Retailer for the first time this year and its stand was packed with employees and buyers on Tuesday morning. The company said it’s one of the top brands in its home country and is popular across Europe, but it’s only just beginning to gain a foothold in the US with commodity giant Callaway.
Peter Haffenberg, Jack Wolfskin’s brand strategy consultant, is an outdoor industry veteran who has been attending outdoor retailer events since the early 2000’s. Häfenberg said the smaller footprint of the 2023 winter show has its advantages.
“Obviously this show is a fraction of what it used to be and we’d love to see more brands here,” Häfenberg said. “But it’s a great trip back to SLC, and we’re thrilled to be one of the biggest outdoor brands here… and we have a great excitement.”
On the other side of the outdoor gear spectrum, Allred Skis is a one-man custom ski maker based in Pleasant Grove. Owner Chad Allred’s tiny booth and his rack of beautifully handcrafted skis drew plenty of its own traffic and many admiring looks from passers-by on Tuesday.
Allred has a background in physical therapy and said the science of body mechanics informs his approach to ski design. When things get hectic he puts his nephew to work, but otherwise Allred builds skis himself from scratch, including harvesting heartwood from fallen trees in the Wasatch Mountains. What is the benefit of choosing a boutique ski manufacturer like Allred? He will make you a complete set of skis built according to your wishes.
“I can make a client whatever they want when it comes to side cut, width, length, even custom graphics,” Allred said.
Allred had its first exhibit at last year’s winter edition of the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver, an event still plagued by COVID-19 concerns and under-attended, but was happy to have the show back in Utah .
Outdoor Retailer senior vice president and show director Marisa Nicholson said the return to Salt Lake City represents a change in her company’s approach to events, with a greater focus on community engagement and an expanded commitment to its role as an organizer of all interest groups a connection to the outdoor leisure industry.
People walk through the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 in Salt Lake City.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
To that end, Outdoor Retailer is working to engage the public in a very industry-centric gathering, beginning with a community block party on Tuesday night and extending to a summer show at Snowbasin Resort that will bring retailers and consumers together in an outdoor exhibition in June . Other new programs include a Businesses With Purpose initiative in partnership with Visit Salt Lake; a revenue return plan to channel support for outdoor recreation and public land projects in Utah; and an expanded program of panel discussions, educational activities, and volunteer projects.
While this week’s show is down from the volumes it had before the pandemic restrictions, outdoor recreation remains a huge economic driver for Utah and the rest of the country.
A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis finds that the national outdoor recreation economy easily outperformed the overall U.S. economy with growth of 18.9% in 2021 compared to the 5.9% national economic growth for the year .
Utah’s share of outdoor recreation accounted for 2.7% of the state’s gross domestic product in 2021, according to the report, and generated over $6 billion in economic activity during the year. The analysis found that as of 2021, nearly 67,000 Utahns were employed in outdoor recreation-related jobs and their income accounted for 4% of the total income of Utah workers last year. And outdoor recreation jobs in Utah are on the rise, growing 14.9% from 2020-2021.
Outdoor Retailer started out in Salt Lake City in 1996 as a relatively modest gathering with approximately 100,000 square feet of exhibit space and attracted 5,000 visitors. But during his Utah tenure, which lasted until 2017, it grew to become the state’s largest convention event, attracting tens of thousands each time it came to town and growing its exhibition space to over 1 million square feet.
Berne Broudy, a freelance journalist, rolls out her back with a chirp wheel at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 in Salt Lake City.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Five years ago, when Salt Lake City’s contract with Outdoor Retailer expired and other cities were vying for hosting responsibilities, perception of the state, or at least a group of its elected officials, was dwindling among some outdoor recreation industry heavyweights.
The Utah capital lost its contract to Denver in 2017 when then-President Donald Trump’s announced plans to downsize several areas of the federally protected land, the environmental community, outdoor enthusiasts and companies specializing in outdoor products and services , upset. At the center of the controversy was Trump’s stated intention to downsize the 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, which President Barack Obama created in a 2016 proclamation just before he left office.
Utah state legislature and then governor. Gary Herbert backed the Trump plan by passing a resolution in the 2017 legislative session declaring “strong opposition to designation as Bears Ears National Monument” and calling on Trump to reverse his predecessor’s executive order.
Back in February, before outdoor retailer Emerald X announced its decision to move the shows back to Salt Lake City, over two dozen outdoor industry companies, including heavyweights like Patagonia, REI, North Face and Kelty, signed a letter , in which they promised to boycott the shows should they return to Salt Lake City.
“We have jointly stated that we will not support or participate in any trade show event in Utah while its elected officials continue their attacks on national monuments and protection of public lands,” the letter said. “Industry leaders express their support for the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and their long-standing efforts to protect the homes of tribes and pueblos with cultural ties to the Bears Ears landscape, as well as the overwhelming majority of the outdoor industry and the American public.
“Despite widespread industry objections, Emerald has shown a continued interest in moving the Outdoor Retailer show to Utah, a state that is leading the fight against designated national monuments and public lands.”
Current Utah Governor Spencer Cox also opposed the Bears Ears designation, which was repealed by Trump and later reinstated by President Joe Biden. He remains adamant on Utah’s position on state land protection, but noted that the split between some voices in the outdoor industry and state leaders is less dramatic than the dialogue might reflect.
“If you want to get somewhere to make an impact on these issues, Utah is where you want to be at the table,” Cox said after announcing news of the outdoor retailer’s return to Utah last year had been. “I’m looking forward to these talks. We’re very different, but we’re not as far apart as people say we are. We want to work together on these issues.”