ORSM09 More about people than product

Summit of Ensign Peak

Summit of Ensign Peak

With a few hours to kill before my flight back to Madison from Salt Lake City I ran to the top of Ensign Peak. That is to say that I climbed to the summit as quickly as I could. I did a fair amount of walking as I scrambled up the warm asphalt and dirt trails. I’m still nursing a bum hip that’s gone from dislocated to merely damn sore. I continue to heal. But there with a panoramic view of the city below I had an opportunity to reflect back on the week’s event and declare to myself that this was the best Outdoor Retailer Summer Market ever!

A bold statement to be sure, so I’ll qualify. Having attended OR every year since 1992 at this most recent summer market the excitement and enthusiasm for our business of outdoor recreation in my opinion has never been higher. Despite dire economic circumstances retailers and manufacturers set themselves to the task of productive commerce. They seemed to encourage one another to embrace the opportunities found in an active population eager to engage the natural world through sport and play.

“This was a great show,” said Ira Watchel owner of Champaign Surplus in Champaign, Illinois. “Most of the vendors we deal with seemed to put their egos aside this year and were serious about helping us to improve our business.”
And Brenda Mohr, a buyer at the Alpine Shop in St. Louis said she enjoyed the sense of community she felt this year.
“By the time we got here, most of our buy was already done,” Mohr said. “We’re here and we brought our new managers to experience more of what the outdoor industry has to offer. It’s not the products. It’s the people.”


As the official Facebook photographer and the proxy tweeter for show director Kenji Haroutunian, I paid very close attention to the people at OR this year. Focusing much less on all the cool new merchandise, and there was plenty, I roamed the aisles and attended events looking to engage folks as they worked the show.

Open Air Demo

Open Air Demo

Beginning at the Open Air Demo in Ogden at Pineview Reservoir, the highlight of event was not all the flashy kayaks and standup paddleboards.  What really made the day was the twenty or so industry professionals who paddled out from the crowded beach in honor of our dearly departed friend and colleague Andy Knapp.

Rod Johnson

Rod Johnson

A buyer at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis for many, many years Andy was a true adventurer who gave an aggressive form of cancer more hell than he got. But he finally succumbed to the disease a few weeks ago. Midwest Mountaineering owner Rod Johnson eulogized Andy with parting words of respect and a flotilla of flowers cast on the water.


This year’s summer market was full of events like this that recognized the accomplishments of those who have brought so much to our industry. Equipment and clothing manufacturer Mountain Hardwear dedicated a wall of their booth to the memory of our friends Micah Dash, Jonny Copp and Wade Johnson who were killed several weeks ago in an avalanche while on expedition in China. And respects were paid to climber John Bachar who tragically perished while making a solo ascent of Dike Wall near Mammoth Lakes, California.

John Bachar

John Bachar


“John was one of the driving forces in climbing,” said fellow climber Conrad Anker in a recent blog post. “A steadfast traditionalist he eschewed the practice of rappel bolting climbs preferring to tackle a section of rock from the ground up.”

The industry rallied as a whole to rise above the circumstances of great lives cut short too soon and celebrated our culture born of adventure and the desire to triumph in the face adversity. Several industry mainstays pooled their musical talents together to create the first ever All-Star Jam at the club Elevate. In performances that ranged from blue grass to funk to hard rock, several companies from around the country formed bands to raise money for the disabled athletes outreach program Paradox Sports. Apart from collecting a few hundred dollars in support of a great cause it was terrific to see so many friends known for their skills as business professionals put on display their abilities to sing and make music. It was a wonderful evening that was nothing short of jubilant.

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Over five days the 2009 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market was filled with rich experiences that went far beyond the sale of products. Continue to check in with the Joy Trip Project blog and podcast for great stories soon to be in the mix. Coming up there’s an interview with Outdoor Industry Association breakfast meeting keynote speaker Carr Hagerman. This former street performing artist and the author of the book “Top Performer” shares his thoughts on how to make something from nothing with the power of active enthusiasm.

Carr Hagerman

Carr Hagerman

We’ll also hear from K2 climber and environmental activist extraordinaire Rick Ridgeway who spoke at the biannual meeting of the Conversation Alliance. His new program “Freedom To Roam” Rick uses storytelling as a vehicle for social change to prevent the loss of wildlife habitats to climate change.

Rick Ridgeway

Rick Ridgeway

There will soon be a blog post profile of the new executive director of Big City Mountaineers Syd Jones. As an African-American, Jones offers a long awaited perspective on exposing young people, particularly minorities, to the joy of outdoor recreation.

Syd Jones

Syd Jones

And speaking of young people you’ll hear a podcast interview with 19-year-old kayaking champion Emily Jackson. She’s not only a talented freestyle whitewater racer but she’s also a philanthropist, devoting much of her free time and prize money to malaria relief in Africa.

Emily Jackson

Emily Jackson

Jon Bowermaster

Jon Bowermaster

On the adventure front, there’s a terrific conversation with explorer and filmmaker Jon Bowermaster who talks about his new book “Wildebeest in a Rainstorm.” In a collection of stories from some of the great outdoor visionaries of modern times Bowermaster offers up an exciting anthology of writings on the likes of Will Steger, David Brower, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Doug Tompkins and others.

We’ll visit with climber Steve House and hear about his new book “Beyond the Mountain.” Reinhold Messner called House “The best high-altitude climber in the world today.” He’ll share in this interview some of his experiences through the various aspects of mountaineering.

Steve House

Steve House

And finally we’ll share the work of fine artist and climber Jeremy Collins who discusses the illustrations and paintings in his book “Intuition.” With quick sketches and  intricately crafted drawings in vivid colors, Collins reveals his view of the world as seen through the eyes of both artist and adventurer.

Jeremy Collins

Jeremy Collins

As I said, Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2009 was the best show ever! All the technical innovations and advances in brand development I’ll leave for the moment to other reviewers and future posts of my own here and there. But I hope in the coming weeks you’ll look to the Joy Trip Project to discover some of the people who use the gear and clothing that makes their adventures possible. As I made my way down the trail from Ensign Peak and as I write this now I find myself thrilled with the prospects for the future. And I am proud to play even a small part in such a dynamic and exciting industry. And I am honored to tell the stories of so many wonderful and talented people.  –JEM

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

4 Responses to “ORSM09 More about people than product”

  1. Margie
    July 29, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    Damn, well written! Nice work, and thanks for the thoughtful post.

  2. Margie
    July 29, 2009 at 9:11 am #

    Damn, well written! Nice work, and thanks for the thoughtful post.

  3. July 30, 2009 at 3:50 am #

    Thanks Margie. It was a pleasure to work with all of you.

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