Winter Market '05 -- Backcountry Base Camp building on success

Once again, the Outdoor Retailer Backcountry Base Camp at Brighton proved to be a success, attracting at least 800 retail buyers (according to pre-registration numbers).
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Once again, the Outdoor Retailer Backcountry Base Camp at Brighton proved to be a success, attracting at least 800 retail buyers (according to pre-registration numbers).

The number of exhibitors at the event, held Jan. 28, grew from 40 in 2004 to 50 this year, due in part to the return of the Nordic ski community. Also notable was the presence of a handful of apparel companies, such as Mountain Hardwear, which had a constant flurry of activity in its booth. While hardgoods remains the thrust of the event, the clothing manufacturers made for a more eclectic mix -- which retailers seemed to appreciate.

In the warming hut, we caught up with Kristin Smith of Earth Outfitters in Naples, Fla., who said, "I really like to check out apparel here. It helps because you have preconceived notions of what you'll see at the show."

The industry also seems to be changing its notion of what types of companies should exhibit at the Base Camp. Gregory made its first appearance this year, displaying not only wintersports packs, but hiking models such as the super-light G-5 designed for backpacking. The Gregory folks said that by 10:30 a.m. several retailers had already dropped by to demo its new products.

Though the event appeared to run smoothly, there were some bumps along the way. For example, no attendees showed for a 10 a.m. avalanche seminar, probably because there weren't enough shuttles ferrying people up in the morning to supply a decent turnout. We're also skeptical about the level of demand for avalanche beacon instruction -- unfortunately. When we dropped by the Pieps booth at 11:45 a.m., the person manning the booth reported that only a couple of people had dropped by to request a demonstration. People! The development of different transceiver technologies means that retail staff need to understand how to operate beacons that rely on different methods of operation. It's much harder to pick up a different brand and get comfortable with it, let alone sell it to a customer who is going to trust a life with it -- certainly a boon to those companies that make operation of a beacon as simple as possible, but no excuse not to learn how to operate all beacons your store sells.

Perhaps one of the challenges is that even if a person did want to demo a product, the beacon testing area lay hundreds of yards away from the main exhibit area, and a closer spot would likely increase interest. However, we also realize that the location of the site is influenced by electrical interference -- most notably the base of the Millecent lift. Next year, take the time to make the walk, and take advantage of the opportunity to learn.

We also noticed fewer snowshoe companies on-hand, and more than one manufacturer admitted that, at the Base Camp, snowshoes remain a bit of an afterthought. Redfeather did not pitch its booth at Brighton this year, and representatives of the company told SNEWS® that the event was not the right allocation of its resources.

Nevertheless, the Tubbs Romp to Stomp out Breast Cancer Snowshoe Walk held at the Base Camp was definitely a success. It drew about two-dozen participants, and for each person participating, $5 was donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which conducts education and research on breast cancer issues. In addition, Jake Thamm of Crescent Moon proclaimed that this year's Base Camp was the company's best Outdoor Retailer on-snow event ever.

Exact Base Camp attendance numbers weren't available at press time, but from our view, attendance looked healthy. Outdoor Retailer Senior Account Executive Kenji Haroutunian said the event is not really designed to draw huge numbers. "It's about the quality of the attendees -- getting the right people here," he said.

Only in its second year, the Base Camp may need some fine-tuning, but this is shaping up to be an event well worth a retailer's attention.

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