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Outdoor Retailer, We Hardly Knew You

After five short years—two plodding through the pandemic—the trade show for the country’s biggest outdoor brands is departing Denver.  The city will lose big bucks—hundreds of millions—and associated global attention as an outdoor mecca. Outdoor Retailer’s twice-a-year event stretched from downtown Colorado Convention Center booths to iconic slopes, rivers and trails for product demos.

READ — Made in Colorado: Great Stuff for the Great Outdoors

“We made a good-faith effort to keep the show, but also need to be good stewards of our taxpayers’ money,” says Conor Hall, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. “We wish them luck, but also know that the trade show model is under a lot of pressure right now.”

Outdoor Retailer is headed back to Salt Lake City where it was stationed for the two decades prior. The decision by OR’s publicly traded parent company Emerald, which puts on more than 140 trade shows worldwide, has ruffled feathers, to say the least.

Major outdoor companies like Patagonia and Colorado-headquartered The North Face have stated that they’d boycott a trade show based in a place where state leadership continues to deny public land protections, highlighted most recently in the dismantling of Bears Ears National Monument.

The exit puts Colorado squarely in a political position to tout its own track record for supporting environmental, conservation and public-access efforts — and invite major and minor outdoor players to a more inclusive exhibition for consumers and industry insiders.

“We’re thinking of it like the South by Southwest of the outdoors, with music and art for a more creative bent, plus all the brands consumers would love to see,” Hall says. “We want to bring in folks into the industry who aren’t at OR. There are kids who grew up in Colorado who’ve never been on a rock wall or in a kayak. We want to break down barriers and give them their first experience.”

Hall calls the soon-to-be-announced event an opportunity to support the state’s $9.6 billion outdoor recreation economy’s growing direct-to-consumer model, but also to showcase Colorado’s reputation as a thought leader — and a beacon for the outdoor lifestyle.