While the third annual Backcountry Basecamp featured 58 exhibiting companies, the real star was the half-foot of fresh snow that fell in thick flakes from morning to late afternoon.
At times, retail traffic at the Brighton event seemed slower than in the past, but we're guessing the fresh snowfall lured people away from the tent village to higher parts of the mountain. Around 10 a.m., we checked in with Kathy Murphy, general manager of Tubbs Snowshoes, who said that retail traffic had been "a little slower" than in previous Basecamps. Todd Walton of Outdoor Research also said traffic had been slow, though he had passed out nearly all of his demo gloves, and 80 percent of the recipients were retailers.
The crowd thickened a bit at the Black Diamond booth, where the company had doled out equipment to more than 200 people (most of whom were retailers) by mid-day. Black Diamond employees said the rate of business pretty much matched last year, and they expected to serve 300 to 400 people before the end of the day.
The official number of non-exhibiting attendees was 1,094, while total attendance was 1,151, said Kenji Haroutunian, senior account executive for Outdoor Retailer. According to Haroutunian, this was the first year that trade show personnel had swiped badges to track attendance, so there is little data to determine trends in attendance over the history of the Basecamp. One interesting observation: There did seem to be a high number of international retailers onsite, and we saw as many as seven or eight hanging out together in a warming hut at one point.
The general mix of manufacturers was largely the same as last year, with a few exceptions. Most notably, a handful of exhibitors, such as the Swiss ski company Movement, exhibited at the Basecamp even though it did not exhibit at the main show. (Typically, companies must participate in the main show to be included in the Basecamp, but this year there wasn't enough space in the Salt Palace to include some companies.) Haroutunian said this was probably a one-time thing, since the Salt Palace expansion will provide adequate space in the future.
The Basecamp also drew some newcomers, including Khatoola, which enjoyed a constant huddle of folks trying out its clever, new step-in snowshoes. Despite the fresh faces, at least two significant brands -- Ortovox and Backcountry Access -- were not at this year's Basecamp.
"We stopped attending because we found that most people want to go up there to ski and snowshoe," said Marcus Peterson of Ortovox USA. "There just isn't enough return for us. It's a day of recreation more than education."
Indeed, last year's attempt at a transceiver domo area failed, partly because it was based too far away from the tent city. This year, Pieps decided to attend at the last minute, and set up a demo site a few yards from the rows of tents. Unfortunately, Pieps committed to the event so late that there was no time to make any signs directing attendees to the demo site, so activity was spotty. Nevertheless, there does seem to be interest in avalanche technology, because 20 people gathered in the afternoon to attend an avalanche science seminar presented by Bruce Tremper. We're still not certain that show producers and transceiver companies will ever succeed in making these products an element of the Backcountry Basecamp that a majority of attendees will pay attention to, even if the educational topic is vitally important.
Aside from the magnificent snow, another impressive element of the Basecamp was the Tubbs Snowshoes electronically-guided hike. The company provided attendees with MP3 players that featured a narrated history of the company. While listening to the expertly crafted and informative audio, people could snowshoe to a series of tents that held displays concerning the history of Tubbs and snowshoeing in general. To Tubbs we say great job -- it was a savvy way to convey the brand's blending of technology with a real sense of history.