State of transition might be the best way to describe Outdoor Retailer’s All Mountain Demo this year, held Jan. 20 at Snowbasin Ski Resort. The mix of exhibitors changed a bit, many manufacturers focused even harder on the backcountry trend, and show producers considered looking for a better place to hold the event.
Word of a possible location move from Snowbasin was perhaps the biggest news to come out of the All Mountain Demo. “We’re definitely looking at other locations,” said Kenji Haroutunian, Outdoor Retailer’s show director.
One reason for considering a move is that Outdoor Retailer was not able to offer certain demo opportunities this year. “We aren’t doing backcountry tours this time because we couldn’t get the permitting arranged through Snowbasin,” he said.
Haroutunian added that he’s looking for a venue where retailers can more effectively demo products. “We’re looking for ease of turns, where the gear can be tried and returned in an efficient way,” he said. Ideally, he’d like the demo to have a dedicated lift that doesn’t necessarily go into the deepest recesses of the resort, and “gives you enough range and level to test, but doesn’t have people disappearing into the mist.”
He said he is also looking for a place that offers good access to Nordic terrain, and also lies a reasonable distance from the Salt Palace Convention Center.
As for this year’s demo, Haroutunian said the number of exhibitors was down a bit compared to last year, noting that the event lost some of the “small, credit-card funded companies” that appeared in the past. But we also saw a shift in the mix of exhibitors, with some familiar faces absent -- like avalanche beacon companies -- but new faces making their debut, such as split-board manufacturer Venture Snowboards and action sports publisher Transworld Business, which held a boardercross-style race at the demo.
The presence of snowboards and split-boards no doubt reflects the fact that more skiers and boarders are moving beyond resort terrain and exploring the backcountry. They’re doing this not only for a better experience, but also to save money in hard economic times.
“Snowboarders and backcountry skiers are excited to not be paying $80 or $100 lift tickets. The resort thing has really spun out of control,” said Haroutunian.
While AT gear has been gaining ground for a few seasons now, it seems that manufacturers are working harder than ever to make the backcountry more accessible. As we reported in our Jan. 21 Morning Report live from Outdoor Retailer Winter Market (click here to find that report and the others), manufacturers such as Dynafit, Scarpa and Black Diamond have produced skis, boots and bindings that are not only extremely lightweight (and, therefore, more comfortable), but also more user friendly to make all aspects of touring easier, particularly skiing downhill. A specific example is Salomon’s Quest Pro Pebax boot, which is designed to provide a downhill experience similar to that of a traditional Alpine boot. The really interesting thing is that several new products really turned people’s heads, and there was a feeling that this year’s All Mountain Demo revealed much more innovation than last winter.
Of course, no demo would be complete without a few oddities. Last year, it was a staged avalanche burial, and this year it was a sighting of the elusive Yeti. OK, not the actual beast, but rather Jetboil’s John Peretti dressed in a white, shaggy suit, and dispensing hot chocolate from a backpack canister. To us, Yeti’s have always appeared disgruntled and violent, so we asked Peretti to describe the difficulties of being such a beast. “It’s the lack of digits and extreme heat and sweat,” he said. “It’s a bitch.” Ah. Now we understand.
Much happier were Mike Payton and Jeremy Louis, who were slacklining over a snow bank in a corner of the demo area to show that their sport is not just a fair-weather one. Though Louis admits he prefers warm-weather slacklining, he said, “With cold weather, you can have some fun with it, set up lines a lot higher, over powder, you know?” That actually sounds saner than his daredevil act during the Summer Market outdoor industry party, when he was walking lines high above Salt Lake City asphalt.
Perhaps the most unexpected encounter of the day was with the demo’s unofficial royalty: Beth Cochran of What’s Up Public Relations rocking a bejeweled silver crown that stood taller than Abe Lincoln’s hat. A birthday present for Cochran, the crown was an original piece of artwork from artist and Patagonia Nordic skiing ambassador Beth Livingston. “Her work has been accepted by the Smithsonian,” said Cochran proudly, though she admitted that wearing a piece by such an esteemed artist was a burden. “It’s kind of heavy,” she said. Oh, yeah, well, tell that to the sweaty guy in the Yeti outfit.