While thick smog and frigid air smothered Salt Lake City on Jan. 26, sunshine and higher temperatures warmed the mood at a lively fourth annual Backcountry Base Camp at Brighton.
The Base Camp attracted a record 1,095 buyers, said Kenji Haroutunian, senior account executive for Outdoor Retailer. He told SNEWS® that the event has evolved so that it now focuses on the quality of attendees and exhibitors, rather than mere quantity, and connects manufacturers with a targeted pool of retail buyers who are actually invited to attend.
This year, 55 companies exhibited (up from 49 last year), including makers of Nordic skis, tele skis, snowshoes, avalanche beacons, backpacks, stoves, boots, apparel and other accoutrements for winter sports. While the mix of products and companies resembled those of previous Base Camps, Haroutunian said this year was notable. "This is the first time we've had all the key ski brands here," he said, pointing out Karhu as an example of a brand that participated this year and did not last year. Also, Movement, "The Swiss Freeride Ski Company" distributed by the Canadian company ROI, made its debut. Created for big mountain skiing (by the founders of Europe's Wild Duck Snowboards), the company's booth was jamming all day.
While a blizzard blew through the Base Camp in 2006, this year the bright skies and packed snow led many more attendees to demo Nordic gear, and the Nordic clinics were especially popular. Sarah Dennett, manager of the Nordic Center at Solitude, and Joan Guetschow, two-time Biathlon Olympian and national champion (who works at Backcountry.com), helped about 25 women over the course of the day figure out their V1s and V2s and learn simply how to move forward on Nordic skis. Guetschow was enthusiastic about the attendance at the Nordic clinics and saw this as evidence of the growth of women's participation in the sport.
Speaking of women, most companies (ahem, other than Atomic) at the Base Camp had more product for women to test this year, in particular skis mounted with bindings for smaller feet. G3 had its renamed Targa RX women's binding on its skis. Now in its third year of making skis with eight models in the line, G3 hired Nahide Henderson (away from Karhu) to help head up the company's athlete program and to spearhead development of the G3 women's line. "We want to be really cautious in how we build our women's line and make sure we do it right," said Oliver Steffen, company founder and president. "We've brought Nahide on board to help us do that."
For the second year, the Outdoor Industry Women's Coalition had a booth at the Base Camp and offered backcountry tours and clinics, plus Nordic and telemark clinics sponsored by Mountain Hardwear, Mammut, Loki and Pistil. The clinics were led by an impressive roster of instructors, such as Leslie Ross, founder of Babes in the Backcountry, who taught backcountry skills and led the backcountry tours with an Exum guide. The beginner telemark clinics were led by Sarah Bennett Alley, a K2-sponsored athlete and instructor with Ultimate Groove (founded by tele pro Heather Paul) and Leslie Blank, a PSIA level III instructor from Brighton.
We have to applaud the bravery of the folks in one of the women's beginner classes -- they had to share the slopes with Stephen Sullivan, owner of Cloudveil, Penn Newhard of Backbone Media, and backcountry ski guru Andrew Mclain. We watched the three guys blow past the class moving at approximately Mach 1. Sullivan later confessed to us that this was his first run of the day, and he nearly wiped out as he sped into a chute while trying to navigate the mountain for the first time and chase down Mclain. (A member of the SNEWS® crew actually rode up the lift with Sullivan and was sane enough to turn down the offer to ski with him.)
Sullivan also told us he was at the Base Camp to determine whether his company should have a booth next year, as more apparel companies are building a presence at the event. "It's another opportunity for buyers to see and test product," he said. Meanwhile, Mountain Hardwear appeared to, once again, have a successful showing at the Base Camp, and a newer company, Loki, exhibited this year to get its unique convertible jackets into buyers' hands.
While the product mix continues to evolve at the Base Camp, the clinics and activities largely mirrored those of the past. However, one new event, the Outdoor Industry Foundation Rail Slam, cranked up the energy as young skiers (and one snowboarder) competed to see who could launch the best tricks onto, across and over a long rail set into the ski hill.
One focus of the Rail Slam was to introduce OIF's latest class of Outdoor Idols, who are young outdoor enthusiasts working to inspire their peers. After the introductions, a rowdy crowd of Idols gathered by an orange net fence to cheer on the Rail Slam competitors, who fed off the crowd's energy and pulled off increasingly difficult tricks. The competition reached an impressive, yet scary peak when young Jesse Delgado launched his snowboard onto the rail, slipped and performed perhaps the first "cheek-side rail slide." (Imagine his face sliding down the rail, both legs extended up in the air.) It probably felt as bad as it sounds, and Delgado, who apparently took the "Slam" moniker literally, came crashing down like a drunk on a barroom floor. Fortunately, the teenager only suffered a cut cheek and we guess a massive headache. After a collective gasp, the crowd quickly recovered with a generous round of applause, and Delgado appeared happy, though a bit stunned.
Random comments that caught our SNEWS® editors' ears amid the sliding and gliding: "It's kick ass, graphics are killer, the dimensions perfect, they have a new all-wood core. I'm stoked on the whole thing," said Mark Khami of Pine Mountain Sports in Bend, Ore., describing Black Diamond's new ski line. He said he also loves Scarpa's new ski boots, and we caught up with him as he was about to check out the Backcountry Access Rottefella NTN binding, which was creating quite a buzz at the Base Camp.
"We've put about 100 people on them today." This comment, taken at about 2 p.m., was from a member of the Airboard team, which served a steady stream of testers. From our observations, the packed snow and warm conditions made for some speedy descents.
"Do you know where your snot spot is?" How strange, we thought, when a DJ on-site broadcast this comment over loudspeakers at the Base Camp. We mean, that's a little personal, ain't it? Turns out, he was just promoting Snot Spot, a really cool product on display at the Base Camp. We happen to love this soft sleeve that slips over a glove and allows you to wipe a runny nose on something that's not only softer than a glove, but also removable and easily washable (washable being the really key part).