With 22 inches of new-fallen snow and frigid air sparkling with diamond dust, Snowbasin seemed a sterling setting for the Fifth Annual Outdoor Retailer Backcountry Base Camp held Jan. 22.
Retailers who attended the event to test AT and telemark skis no doubt came away impressed with the overall conditions. "We had phenomenal snow," said Eric Barrett, senior merchandising planner for Mountain Gear, based in Spokane Valley, Wash. In fact, the snow was so good that nearly all the retailers headed up the mountain immediately, and from morning to noon, we were hard-pressed to find anyone sporting a red badge among the 50 or so manufacturer booths.
Granted, booth traffic was also slow because attendance dropped noticeably compared to last year. (Hard numbers on attendance were not available.) Outdoor Retailer Show Director Kenji Haroutunian said the reduced numbers could be attributed to the fact that this year the Base Camp was held on a Tuesday, as opposed to last year when it fell on a Friday.
Aside from attendance, the other notable aspect of this year's Base Camp was its location. While the event was held at Brighton Ski Resort last year, it was relocated to Snowbasin for 2008 to provide a more compact area that offered closer testing terrain. Unfortunately, the Nordic testing area proved less than ideal. "The Nordic area was a little out of place because it was so far from the trail system," said Barrett. "Having to go through the terrain park to get to the Nordic trails, it was a little daunting to think you were going to go all that way and then put some mileage on the actual Nordic tracks."
Adding to the difficulty was the fact that Nordic testers had to ski downhill to access the Nordic tracks, and then climb back up again when finished. "For somebody who is either a less proficient skier, there wasn't really any flat or rolling terrain for them to work with," said Bill Sterling, Nordic national sales manager for Salomon. Still, Sterling said, with a few modifications, Snowbasin could be a great location.
In some ways, it was definitely more convenient than Brighton. A ski lodge located a few steps from the display booths offered bathroom facilities and a small café, which were clearly superior to past years' warming huts and portable toilets. The lodge also allowed the Outdoor Retailer staff to hook up computers and register attendees indoors quickly and efficiently.
No matter where it's held, Base Camp remains a worthwhile component of the trade show, not only because it allows retailers to demo gear, but also because manufacturers believe it's a good place to showcase new products. Easton was on-hand to introduce its new line of snowshoes, while Sierra Summits launched sun-protection products and Mountain Hardwear let people slip on the new Red Savina heated glove.
And then there was that strange dude dressed as a Viking. Drew Simmons, president of the Pale Morning Media public relations firm, donned a horned helmet and furry get-up to promote Kelty's raffle of two tickets to Iceland. We caught up with the shaggy warrior just as he was strapping a broadsword to his orange backpack. "This is the new 'pillaging pack,'" he declared. "It has a mesh back to allow blood flow when injured in battle."
And with that, we handed him our business cards to enter the raffle knowing that if we didn't win tickets to Iceland, at least we got to see a grown man dressed like a Wooly Mammoth. Yes, Base Camp can be a wondrous thing.