The Outdoor Retailer (OR) tradeshow just took place in Denver for its final time in the city, and a handful of climbing-specific brands were on hand. It moved from Salt Lake City in 2017 after pressure from industry leaders who didn’t support Utah as the host state for environmental reasons. It will head back to Salt Lake City in 2023.
OR History: The very first Outdoor Retailer (OR), the Outdoor Retailer Trade Expo, was held at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas in 1982. There were 93 exhibitors. The show needed a boost in the mid-1980s, so OR hired Jack Gilbert from The North Face and his first move was to get Patagonia on board.
In 1993, OR had plans to move to Denver, but industry feedback caused show management to re-think the move and to stay in Reno. Three years later, it moved to Salt Lake City. In 2003, Black Diamond co-founder Peter Metcalf called for OR to leave Salt Lake City after Gov. Mike Leavitt and Interior Secretary Gale Norton stripped wilderness protections from nearly six million acres in Utah, but OR remained in Utah.
OR’s popularity boomed during the 2000’s and 2010’s, thanks to social media and a growing outdoor industry. That all changed five years ago.
Patagonia Stopped Going: In 2017, Patagonia said that it would no longer attend OR if it was held in Salt Lake City because of actions taken by the government to further loosen environmental protections. Rose Marcario, president and CEO of Patagonia, said, “Because of the hostile environment they have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, the backbone of our business, Patagonia will no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah and we are confident other outdoor manufacturers and retailers will join us in moving our investment to a state that values our industry and promotes public lands conservation.”
To Colorado and Back: After several other companies boycotted Salt Lake City in 2017, OR looked for a new host city and settled on Denver. Hundreds of companies, including many climbing brands attended in 2018 and 2019. However, the post-pandemic OR isn’t what it used to be, and for several reasons, organizers have decided to take it back to Utah. A press release from OR said, “As we plan for the coming years back in Salt Lake City and County, we move forward with the same optimism and values that have always guided our industry, and we’re ready to work with you to explore endless opportunities to help our industry grow. We are excited about what the future holds for Outdoor Retailer.”
The Outerverse: In years past, OR had outdoor enthusiasts like Timmy O’Neill on a microphone making jokes to passing crowds while promoting new gear. This year, Outside Inc. CEO Robin Thurston was on hand talking about NFTs and the Outerverse. The Outerverse is meant to be the opposite of the Metaverse, where instead of everyone being digitally inside, they’re digitally outside. It had a lot of people scratching their heads, and maybe they’re onto something, but fun climbing-based entertainment that people could connect with was lacking.
Will Climbing Brands Follow? Mostly no. When OR was at its best, dozens of climbing companies participated. Big brands, like The North Face, Arc’tryx, Petzl, CAMP, DMM, Mountain Hardwear, La Sportiva, Scarpa, RAB, Black Diamond and Metolius, would showcase their newest products; while smaller brands would try to introduce themselves to the industry – often to great success.
After the move to Denver and before the pandemic, most brands were still attending OR. At the 2022 summer show last week, less than 10 climbing brands were on hand displaying gear. Scarpa, DMM, Beal, Five Ten, and a few others had booths with current and future products, like the new-for-2023 Scarpa Generator for trad climbing, which took three years to design and looks amazing.
A lot of companies have already said no to Salt Lake City next year, including The North Face, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, La Sportiva, Scarpa, MSR, Therma-Rest and more. Given that only a few climbing brands were on hand this year, it might be fair to say that – at least for the world of climbing – OR just died. But, time will tell.