Outdoor Retailer Winter Market Snow Show
(Photo/Scott Martin, Outdoor Retailer)

Back to Utah: Outdoor Retailer Makes Contentious Decision to Move Show

Deliberation between Utah officials, Outdoor Retailer organizers, and the industry’s biggest brands dragged on all winter. Now, the trade show returns to Salt Lake City.

The Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show will officially move back to Utah this year. The announcement comes amid ongoing push and pull between public officials, the show’s organizers, and big-name brands like Patagonia and The North Face.

Last month, the two brands and over 20 others pledged to boycott the show if it returned to Utah.

OR announced the decision on Wednesday in a statement that responded to the well-known past abrasion.

“We firmly believe that staying engaged and collectively contributing to the ongoing discussion, no matter how difficult, is far more constructive” than holding the show elsewhere, OR said. “We are the first to admit significant work is required to achieve change, so we are dedicating resources to making progress.”

The changes it details include:

  • Committing revenue over the next 3 years from Outdoor Retailer events in Utah to fund programs to support outdoor recreation and protect public lands.
  • Forming the Business with Purpose initiative in partnership with Visit Salt Lake. The partnership seeks to bring Utah officials, public lands and outdoor recreation leaders, and industry stakeholders together for biannual meetings. The meetings, it says, will focus on addressing challenges, influencing policy, assisting advocacy efforts, and directing resources into protecting responsible access to natural and cultural spaces.
  • Providing increased opportunities for the industry, local communities, and media to participate in panel discussions, educational activities, and volunteer projects.

Outdoor Retailer’s commitments in Denver end following the June Summer Market. The show’s organizing body, Emerald Expositions, now awaits responses from the industry.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market Snow Show
Patagonia, REI, The North Face Among Top Brands Boycotting Outdoor Retailer Move to Utah
The Conservation Alliance leads 24 outdoor companies to fortify national monument and public lands protections. Read more…

Brands Respond

Following the announcement, major outdoor brands have taken positions calling for Utah’s leaders to ensure public lands protections. Both Patagonia and REI appeared to pave the way for an OR boycott, unless Utah’s representatives make major changes in their stance on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments.

“Should Utah’s politicians abandon their legal threats seeking once again to roll back protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, Patagonia is glad to return to Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City,” Patagonia CEO, Ryan Gellert said in a statement. “We are disappointed the owners of Outdoor Retailer are blatantly ignoring the Indigenous Peoples, local activists and outdoor athletes who spent years working to conserve and protect wild lands in Utah by moving the show back to Salt Lake City. Until we hear a firm commitment to protect our national monuments, we remain steadfast in our position and won’t return to the trade show in Utah.”

REI took an even firmer stand, making clear the retailer vehemently opposes Emerald Expositions’ decision:

“We are very disappointed by Emerald’s decision to move the Outdoor Retailer trade show out of Colorado and back to Utah in January 2023 despite the strong objections of the co-op and other industry leaders.

“Utah’s elected officials have repeatedly refused to protect—and are actively working to undermine—duly designated national monuments and natural treasures, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante. As we made clear in
February, REI will not participate in any OR trade show in the state so long as Utah’s leaders persist in attacking our public lands and the laws that protect them. We remain committed to our employees, members, vendors and communities in the state.

“The co-op is unwavering in our commitment to public lands—the mountains, deserts, prairies, waters and forests that tens of millions of Americans from all backgrounds cherish and enjoy annually. We recognize and maintain solidarity
with the Native American communities who have stewarded these lands for generations and continue to lead the campaign for their protection.

“We hope Emerald will reconsider the host site of Outdoor Retailer in the future.”

—Ben Steele, REI’s executive vice president and chief customer officer

Outdoor Retailer’s Fraught Recent History

Salt Lake City hosted the cornerstone event for over 2 decades until 2017. That year, the show pulled out of the city in response to a politically charged boycott from Patagonia.

Its ensuing contract in Denver expired this January, necessitating a new plan. In a familiar redux of 2017, brands across the outdoor industry again lobbied for the show to stay out of Utah.

In a January letter, two conservation organizations representing hundreds of outdoor businesses urged Utah Governor Spencer Cox to stop simultaneously “undermining” Utah’s public lands and courting Outdoor Retailer to come back to Salt Lake City.

Then in February, they appeared to promise another boycott if Outdoor Retailer’s parent company, Emerald Expositions, did move the show back to Utah.

“So long as Utah’s elected delegation continues its assault on public lands and the laws designed to protect them, Emerald faces a choice: move the show to Utah and ensure that many of the key players in the outdoor industry will not return to Utah with the trade show, or work with the industry leaders to shape a future trade show that balances the interests and values of industry members and partners,” the letter said.

Between its January and June events, the show brings about $45 million in revenue to its home state each year.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson is a staff writer at GearJunkie, and several other All Gear websites.

He has been writing about climbing, cycling, running, wildlife, outdoor policy, the outdoor industry, vehicles, and more for 2 years. Prior to GearJunkie, he owned and operated his own business before freelancing at GearHungry. Based in Austin, Texas, Anderson loves to climb, boulder, road bike, trail run, and frequent local watering holes (of both varieties).