Outdoor Retailer 2013 Wrap-Up: People and Parties!
What is it like to attend an Outdoor Retailer show? A couple of weeks ago I saw someone on Twitter describe it as the SXSW for outdoorsy types. I’ve never been to SXSW, but several people told me that’s an apt description. After business is done on the show floor the parties ramp up, and there is never a lack of something to do if you want to have fun!
The gear just seems to be an excuse to get a bunch of awesome people together twice a year. While the new gear is exciting and interesting, it seems that the real pulse of the show is around the human relationships. It’s great to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. This industry is just filled with great people.
I landed in SLC on Tuesday night and immediately met up with some old friends from BackpackGearTest.org. We had a couple of beers and divvied up the appointments for the rest of the show so that we wouldn’t have to find the time to do it later. After a couple of hours of catching up it was back to my hotel room to get a little bit of sleep before we hit the ground running the next morning.
On the Wednesday morning I had the option of going to the Outdoor Industry Breakfast, but I decided I should try and squeeze in a workout instead so at 6 am I headed down to the hotel gym. It was packed! Figures – cram a bunch of athletic people into a hotel and the hotel gym squeaky treadmill suddenly becomes a hot commodity (especially when it is six degrees outside).
After a busy day of meetings on Wednesday, the booth parties start. But first, the 4 pm drawing for all kinds of gear goodies at the Leave No Trace booth! This year John won a box!
Out comes the beer, the local whiskeys, the vodka shots, the fundraisers, mechanical bull riding, and ‘celebrity’ appearances. You can’t walk two feet without someone handing you a drink or selling raffle tickets.
On that first night, the Conservation Alliance had their hockey tournament, with several teams playing against each other in the ballroom while spectators cheered and munched on free food and Sierra Nevada beers. After watching the team from Keen win it all, I decided to head back to my hotel for a good night of sleep. I knew that Thursday would be a long day!
On Thursday morning I got up early to head over to the Conservation Alliance Breakfast. The featured speaker was Cheryl Strayed, author of the book Wild which I had conveniently finished the weekend before OR. I had mixed feelings about the book, but hearing her talk about it was interesting and gave me a bit of what I thought the book was lacking.
Speaking of the Conservation Alliance, how is this for a deal? Member companies of the Conservation Alliance were selling products at their booths as fundraisers, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Conservation Alliance. These items were significantly discounted over their retail prices so they disappear quickly! This year I purchased IceBreaker t-shirts for David, I got myself some Brooks Pure Drift running shoes and a hoodie, and snagged some shiny new OmniHeat base layers from Columbia.
Oh, there was maple ice cream with bacon sprinkles at Dan Tough Vermont socks booth.
As the show wrapped up on Thursday night with the same booth parties, I met up with a group of friends from my OmniTen trip to Sedona and Havasu with Columbia. After a sushi dinner we went to the Wolverine party, which this year featured Macklemore! It’s a small venue event and we got to be right up next to the stage where we danced our faces off for a while. I have to say this was one of the best nights I’ve ever had at an OR show! It was so great to see the Columbia crew again, and Macklemore live is definitely a show worth seeing.
(If you’ve been living in a cave and just asked “who is Macklemore?” might I recommend this NPR music Tiny Desk concert?)
Thankfully I got to sleep in a bit on Friday with my first appointment not starting until 9:30 am. Luckily I didn’t have to worry about breakfast, with the New Balance booth serving waffles and raspberries.
Throughout the day I started to connect with a few other outdoor bloggers and Twitter friends as they showed up. It was great to finally put faces to so many names I’ve know for so long, and even share a few beers! That night I headed over to one of the local watering holes for a networking event which was a great opportunity to get to know people as more than “Company X’s PR rep” and chat about things OTHER than gear. Another late night, but totally worth the sleep deficit I’m still recovering from.
As if that wasn’t enough, I played hooky from the show on Saturday morning and went snowshoeing up at Solitude with a group of outdoor bloggers, generously sponsored by TETON Sports, Tubbs Snowshoes (thanks for the demo shoes, so I didn’t have to fly mine all the way to SLC!) and HydroFlask. It was so great to get above the nasty SLC inversion air and get some exercise other than walking the show floor.
After the snowshoe I popped back over to the show floor for the final couple hours. Booths are packing up and appointments are over, so this is usually the time for shopping, with booths selling off their sample merchandise to avoid having to pack it up and travel home with it. Icebreaker is the gold standard, with boxes and boxes of samples to dig through. I’ve been coveting their beautiful Skyline Trench jacket for years, and I had the opportunity to grab one for a small fraction of the retail price. That was worth the long line alone! David and I are now well supplied with merino wool for the next 50 years! I was on the show floor chatting with friends until the last possible minute – when they actually started to roll the floor up underneath our feet (okay, we get the hint!)
Things quieted down by Saturday night but I still managed to spend a few hours sharing beers and stories with Tim, Dave, and Steve at Squatters Pub. I forced myself to say goodnight and head back to my hotel room around 9 pm, cognizant of my 8 am flight the next morning and desperately needing to figure out my packing situation (fitting all that gear into my two bags while coming in under airline weight restrictions = a difficult feat).
I made it home with all gear and goodies intact, which isn’t what I can say for myself. I’ve been home over a week and I think I’m still recovering! See you guys next year!