It was a lovely spring day in the middle of winter as the Outdoor Retailer Show kicked off its annual five-day convention yesterday at Utah’s Solitude Resort. Blue skies and 40-degree temperatures is the next best thing to freshies but you could tell that the manufacturers were conflicted. Everyone enjoyed the mild weather as they ran laps on the Eagle Express lift, demoing new backcountry skis and boots (front country gear is showcased in Denver at the SIA Show next week) but the day was bittersweet. You want storms and powder to sell winter gear. No one is more unhappy about the dearth of snowfall in the west this year than retail buyers who might be stuck with expensive product if things don’t pick up. They also might be less willing to place new orders. Gerbings featured a new heated glove but it was so bluebird you skied gloveless. Guests at the demo day were more worried about getting feet wet than slipping on ice but, good news for YakTrax, runners still surrounded their table to learn more about the running-specific ice cleats. Jambu is featuring a unique retractable cleat system in some of their winter shoes but at a $200+ pricetag it may be a tough sell.
Nearly 22 thousand people have arrived to celebrate winter outdoors and take in the gear and clothing that will hit the market next October but after three bad snow seasons it will be interesting to see how it affects retail buying. Manufacturers will pitch new and updated products to buyers and media in the halls of the Salt Palace Convention center through Saturday. The winter market is one of the largest conventions in Utah (only the summer version is bigger) and brings in more than $20 million for the state. The money’s important but people wouldn’t attend if it wasn’t one heck of a good time- even in Utah. One thing this weak season has done is make the backcountry more appealing. Desperate powderhounds are heading out in droves says Tyson Bradley of Utah Mountain Guides. Everyone’s signing up for classes and tours hoping to find something better than what’s inbounds.
For 2014/15, expect lighter skis with carbon, and more boots with a ski/walk mode. The challenge is in the binding system. Marker still leads the way for traditional alpine skiers who would prefer to use one hardshell boot for everything but models like the Baron are still heavy beasts for touring. Dynafit spent the day outfitting ‘testers’ with the stiff but lightweight carbon Denali ski and their Beast binding. Trouble is, you have to wear their boots to fit the pins in the system so for resort skiers it doesn’t make sense to have a whole separate setup. In the end, a bluebird day is a bluebird day and you can’t complain about that. The sun softened the snow and backcountry mountain lovers (for whom this show is traditionally focused) are psyched to head indoors to see what’s in store- literally.
Today’s indoor portion kicks off with a keynote breakfast by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, former CEO of REI, where she’ll discuss engaging Americans in the outdoors. The rest of the week is filled with seminars, events and parties.