Public land politics mark Denver debut of outdoor trade show

DENVER — The Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show debuted in Denver on Thursday after the multimillion-dollar international gathering of industry brands made a high-profile departure from its longtime Utah home in a dispute over preserving public lands.

Organizers and industry figures launched the four-day marketplace by criticizing President Donald Trump's decision to drastically shrink two national monuments in Utah, a move backed by some Utah political leaders but opposed by outdoor retail leaders who insist that preserving public lands is vital to their trade.

The show left Salt Lake City because of differences with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other Republican leaders over the Obama administration's creation of Bears Ears National Monument. Trump later scaled back Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

"I've never seen the industry coalesce the way it did over that single political movement," said Greg Thomsen, U.S. managing director for Adidas Outdoor. "It brought together competitors who may have never talked before, such as the North Face with Patagonia with Adidas Outdoor with REI."

"We compete, but this is bigger than just shoes and shirts," Thomsen said.

Colorado politicians embraced the show's move, insisting their environmental policies more closely align with those of the outdoor recreation industry. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates Americans spend $887 billion a year on recreation, including gear, vehicles, accessories and travel.

"We will make sure we are the strongest advocate and best partner you've ever had in state government," Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper told industry leaders Thursday during a pre-show session on climate change.

"Take the values of the outdoor recreation industry — clean water, clean air, public lands and access to those public lands" — and get involved in politics, Hickenlooper said.

Individual brands and retailers, large and small, joined the effort to put out a public message — even if the show is largely closed to the public. It features more than 1,000 brands and 11,000 retailers on the hunt for goods they can sell in the months to come and was expected to inject $45 million into the local economy.

California-based Patagonia Inc. and conservation groups are projecting phrases, including "Monuments for All," and a countdown clock onto a downtown building until Feb. 2, when companies can seek oil and gas leases in recently removed portions of the Utah monuments.

"Over the next three days, a lot of brands are going to make political statements," said Jimmy Funkhouser, owner of Feral Mountain Co., an independent outdoor gear shop in Denver. "They're going to use the venue and they're going to use the platform to make a point."

That said, the business of shoes and shirts — as well as ski gear, camping, clothing, food, footwear — took center stage, with thousands of retailers quickly crowding the three floors of the Colorado Convention Center.

"We're here to find new cool things," Funkhouser said. "We'll walk the floors, see something that catches our eye, and six months later, it will be in our shop."

Business trends, not U.S. politics, brought Mary Davis and Kaylee Hopkins to Denver. They run The Radical Edge, a sports equipment store in Fredericton, New Brunswick, catering to university students and military personnel at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown.

They're looking for ideas to increase their online presence and merchandising.

"We have to be more on top of things, and this show allows that," Davis said. "We'll hone in over the next three days, see what's cool and new and relevant."

It's the first Outdoor Retailer Show since its producer, Emerald Expositions, acquired the SnowSports Industries America Snow Show, which had been held each January in Denver. Organizers say it's the first time in nearly 30 years that the outdoor and snow industries have a combined show.

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Associated Press writer Dan Elliott contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show the expo lasts four days, not three.

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