01 Feb Onward and Upward ~ An Opinion Piece for the OR Daily
Despite a surge of COVID-19 infections that are sweeping the nation, the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market is happening as scheduled. Though the annual Snow Show typically welcomes attendees and exhibitors from around the world by the tens of thousands, the risk of exposure to the Omicron variant has persuaded many companies, entrepreneurs and athletes to stay at home. As I watched a skeleton crew of personnel assemble a handful of display booths on set-up day, it was hard not to wonder if I was witnessing the slow and inevitable death of the outdoor industry as we know it.
But less 24 hours earlier, on a Monday morning in Madison, Wisconsin, I shoveled my car out of three inches of fresh snow that was still falling. Had I not been on my way to OR, I would have been plotting an afternoon of cross-country skiing with my wife on a 15-kilometer blanket of newly groomed corduroy. In the time since I arrived in Denver a fresh dump of powder covered the Rockies and with a quick scan of the country from coast to coast, there appears to be great conditions for cold weather activities from backcountry skiing to half-pipe snowboarding from the Sierras to the eastern slopes of New England.
For all intents and purposes, we seem to be smack in the middle of an awesome winter season! We just have to make the most of it. If we can just get out of our heads and stop agonizing over the state of the world, we can easily realize that the outdoor industry is doing just fine and our respective businesses will only be as good or as great as we are prepared to make them.
I came out of the Outdoor Retailer Summer show with a great deal of optimism. The Covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding there was a lot to celebrate. As a journalist who covers the intersection of outdoor recreation, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), I was excited to see an emerging number of Black, Indigenous and persons of color creating new professional opportunities for themselves and others. The presence of these BIPOC individuals and institutions revealed to me the strength of an expanding economic environment that is capable of sustaining a variety of different entities who can grow the outdoor industry as whole. More than a few of those folks who share my optimism will be in attendance at this year’s winter snow and that’s exciting.
Jahmicah Dawes, the founder of Slim Pickins Outfitters of Stephenville, Texas, and last year’s winner of the Outdoor Industry Association Inspiration Award, plans to attend the show with his wife and two young children. The 2021 Title Nine Pitchfest winner, Brittany Coleman, founder of Tough Cutie Socks, will also be walking the aisles. Though she won’t have a booth to display product, Coleman said it’s important for her to attend OR so that she can continue to build her community network.
With an excellent line-up of events, this year’s show continues to demonstrate much of the growth we have seen in recent years. On Day One Gerry James of Together Outdoors, a division of the Outdoor Recreation Round Table, will announce its new resource guide to explore DEI and social justice issues in outdoor recreation. Day Two welcomes a conversation with inclusion evangelists Teresa, Baker, José Gonzalez and Wyn Wily (A.K.A. Pattie Gonia) to share their new education initiative The Outdoorist Oath. And on Day Three, the glove and accessories brand Seirus Innovations will host a panel discussion moderated by Langston Clark with Philip Henderson, leader of the Full Circle Everest Expedition, the first all-Black team of climbers to attempt a summit of the highest peak on Earth.
Much of our work at Outdoors Retailer is less about selling goods and services and more about the relationships we create as we work together toward our goals as business professionals. Though Seirus Innovations will not have a booth on display this year the company has devoted its space to giving show attendees a comfortable spot to meet and share information. With a banner that reads “Inclusivity Starts Here”, the booth is the first thing that most attendees will see when they enter the show floor. Though numbers this year will definitely be down, there can be no doubt. As an industry our aspirations to unite in the spirit of diversity and inclusion have never been higher.
This story originally appeared in the Outdoor Retailer Daily on Day 2 of the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show https://www.nxtbook.com/emerald/outdoorretailer/daily2022_Day2/index.php#/p/54
Author’s note: Shortly after returning home from Denver I tested positive for the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Though I am naturally disappointed over my personal health status I don’t regret my decision to attend Outdoor Retailer. I having been vaccinated with a booster my symptoms are quite mild and I am sure I will recover soon. I can only hope that others who also test positive in the coming weeks will opt to restrict travel and isolate to the best of their ability to stop the spread.