A Totally Unofficial Guide to Denver’s First Outdoor Retailer Show

If you work in the outdoors industry, there’s a fair chance you’re headed to Denver in the next week. For those not familiar with the city and event space, I’ve pulled together a few thoughts to make the trip easier.

sia show denver

I live in Denver and love the city. Having covered a few Snow Industry Association shows here in the past, I figured I’d pass along some tips for newcomers to the Denver Convention Center. I realize this post doesn’t address every possible question, but hopefully it’ll help streamline the transition to the Mile High City for Outdoor Retailer attendees.

Airport Transfers (Tip: Try Light Rail)

blucifer denver international airport
Photo credit: Mike Sinko

The Denver airport is located in Nebraska. OK, just kidding – but it’s a long way from downtown. You’ll know you’ve landed at DIA when you see the demonic death-horse with glowing red eyes. We affectionately call him “Blucifer.”

If you arrive outside rush hour, plan a solid half-hour drive to get from the airport to downtown. If you arrive during rush hour (or anytime in the late afternoon), God help you. Plan an hour, maybe more.

That is, unless you take the light rail. Since it opened last year, I’ve taken it several times and love it. It costs $9 each direction (yeah, a little pricy), and picks you up right by the terminal under the Weston hotel.

Take the epic escalator down and hop aboard. A half-hour ride ends at Union Station, a central location for getting downtown (and a lovely spot for a beer).

For those planning to ski the On-Snow Demo (you should), keep in mind that there is no free shuttle to Copper Mountain. If you’re considering a rental car anyway, put this in your pro-rental column.

16th Street Mall Shuttle

For those staying downtown, the 16th Street Mall offers free transportation for short jaunts to LoDo (lower downtown) from the convention center.

If you happen to be staying in LoDo, or need to get from Union Station to the Convention Center, use the free Mall Shuttle to time-warp a few blocks of your walk and save the Lyft/Uber ride for longer travels.

Breakfast Burritos

I’ve only been a full-time Denverite for seven years, but if green chili consumed in the form of breakfast burritos isn’t the official food of Denver, I don’t know what is (yeah, I know it comes from New Mexico).

There are a gajillion small burrito shops around the city. You can’t go wrong with the ubiquitous Santiagos for $2.50, but I’ll let you in on my favorite near the Highlands. Google “Araujos.” Get two “half-and-halfs” (mild and spicy), and don’t forget to bring $4 cash.

Reefer Madness

Yes, weed is still legal. If you are 21, you can go to a store and buy pot. I’m sure many out-of-staters will do so. Just don’t be a dick with it.

Police treat marijuana like alcohol. So don’t smoke in public. Don’t smoke in your hotel room or you might get stuck with a cleaning bill. Definitely don’t smoke at the convention. Just be cool, and discreet, and good grief don’t get stoned and drive.

Gettin’ Sweaty

You want to stay fit, right? If you’re anywhere near the convention center, there are miles of recreation trails near downtown.

Check out the Cherry Creek Trail and South Platte Trail to get a nice run or bike ride, and even a little nature, starting just a block from the Denver Convention Center. Obviously there are many gyms, including climbing gyms, in Denver too. But if you have transportation, consider a quick jaunt to the foothills for a trail run.

Matthew Winters Park has some beautiful views, and the trailhead is only a 20-minute drive from downtown. Just be ready for some icy conditions, and skip the trail if it’s muddy. A nice, paved alternative lies just down the street around Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Skiing: SIA On-Snow Demo

The On-Snow Demo at Copper Mountain hosted by SIA; photo by Sean McCoy

This might be the best “deal” in downhill skiing. Two days’ lift tickets, apres beers, and all kinds of gear demos for just $50. Add breakfast for two days, and it’s still only $75.

But you have to register and sign a liability waver. Do it here. You can also sign up at show check-in, but to streamline things it makes sense to do it now. 

So once you’re registered for the fun part (skiing!), how do you get there? You only really have a couple options. The best is probably to rent a car, but if you haven’t already, it could get pricy. The next is to take a discounted ride with Colorado Mountain Express for $45 each way.

Once there, ski your face off and try all kinds skis, boards, boots, bindings, goggles, helmets, and other accessories.

Nordic skiers take note: The Nordic Demo is only on Monday and will take place at Copper Mountain.

An SIA spokesman said that Lyft will also offer rides to Copper Mountain at a discounted rate.

Convention Center

Denver Convention Center floor plan, upper level

Be conscious of a different show plan. It’s really intermingled, so plan some extra time to get the lay of the land.

The Convention Center is set up on three floors. I’ll give a quick overview from the top down, but attendees might want to take a few minutes to study the floor plan here.

Top Floor, a.k.a. Upper Exhibit Level: This is the main floor of the convention. Here you’ll find most of the biggest companies and flagship booths. Much like the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, it is a very big room laid out on a grid pattern. Take a few minutes to note the numerical system if you’ve never been here.

Exhibit Street Level: This is the level you enter on, and where you’ll collect your badge. It’s a sprawling area of wide hallways, meeting rooms, and ballrooms. Getting from one corner of this area to another takes a long time, so if you have meetings down here, try to give yourself a little extra time to make it from one to the next. A lot of small- to mid-sized brands are located on this level, as well as the Venture Out brands.

Lower Level: Here you’ll find most of the ingredient brands (think zippers, down, and fabric) and the Special Events Four Seasons Ballroom.

Lyft Discount

Need a Lyft to the convention center? Lyft partnered with SIA (winter partner for Outdoor Retailer) and offers 20 percent off one ride to or from the show at the Convention Center with the code SIA2018.

Welcome to Denver

I hope these ideas help smooth your way to a successful trade show. I’m sure it doesn’t answer every question that may arise though. Lots of answers are available at Outdoor Retailer’s FAQ, or the website for the SIA On-Snow Demo. Feel free to leave questions and useful tips below.

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Managing Editor Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in Denver, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.

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