Backcountry Allure – SIA 2013, a Case Study

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Photo courtesy of www.transworldbusiness.com

Winter Park, Colo., SIA on-snow demo site. Photo courtesy of www.transworldbusiness.com

Courtesy of SIA

Courtesy of SIA

Courtesy of SIA

Courtesy of SIA

The SnowSports Industries America (SIA) trade show moved out of the conference center and onto the snow today. The on-snow demos are at Winter Park resort for ski, snowboard and AT/backcountry gear, and at Devil’s Thumb Ranch for Nordic and snowshoe gear.
The SIA on-snow demo is always highly anticipated. This is despite the fact that it anchors an incredibly long, marathon-esque tradeshow circuit, that for many, began weeks ago with prep for Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in mid-January.
Heeding the overwhelming trend across the industry, SIA has positioned “AT/Backcountry” as the marquee draw for the on-snow event. The Denver Post, in its Saturday edition, covered the SIA backcountry topic here. (Yep, that was the panel I moderated and my company, Verde PR, sponsored. Thanks for helping to spread the good word, Denver Post. We’ll have a comprehensive review of the panel tomorrow on MountainDiva.)
The snowsports and outdoor markets are seeing incredible growth in the backcountry-travel sector. According to SIA research, published Jan. 17 of this year, last season, there were an estimated 5-million backcountry participants who collectively purchased $40-million worth of apparel, gear and accessories specifically for backcountry travel.
Considering the crappy, inconsistent snowpack the nation has been fighting its way through in the past several seasons, and the marked downturn for the industry as a whole during recent winters, these numbers seem to defy logic. Some actually attribute the boom in the AT gear to the poor snow conditions. If the snow isn’t in great shape for sliding downhill, many winter enthusiasts have turned to the cardio-vascular fun of skinning uphill. The problem arises when the comfort of uphill skinning in a controlled ski resort environment leads to a fall sense of security in non-controlled areas.
As an industry, we’re sitting on an incredible opportunity for engagement and growth. The allure and freedom of an open powder field meet with the very real hazard that manufacturers can’t control consumers’ decision-making, and nor would they want to. This opportunity is tempered by the reality that every tragedy in the backcountry is national news. Manufacturers and resort operators can’t prevent these tragedies, but we have the opportunity to increase awareness around the knowledge that every person who ventures outside the ropes of a ski area should own. The industry holds the reigns here; we must come together and figure out how to create a usable, sharable solution… stat.
With this dilemma, the conversation around risk management and communication to end consumers about safely traveling in the backcountry will move to the on-snow demos today.
Buyers will learn first-hand how to use new innovations in backcountry safety, which is an important step to create awareness among end consumers who are interested in backcountry travel.
Vendors, guides, athletes, snow scientists, resort owners, media professionals, marketers – we all have the same need. How do we responsibly communicate the thrill of being in the backcountry while concurrently conveying the risks? Should we be shooting for an education effort? Should we advocate that end-consumers should use a certified guide to be safe? Should we be pushing for stewardship instead of education? Should gear manufacturers adhere to a standard around product education?
The snowsports and outdoors markets are full of professionals with no shortage of energy, focus and intention around being responsible while selling or purveying backcountry adventure to new, and existing snowsports participants.
That intention and energy, and all of our talents (which cover a wide spectrum) will need to be funneled into a turn-key solution, quickly. Alignment around a simple goal – effective communication to end consumers – must be in place to ensure that we can truly come together around this topic as a unified and powerful team.
My brand communications agency, Verde PR, is entirely committed to leading the charge and helping the industry come together on this. Tomorrow’s Mountain Diva will offer more insight around how we plan to help support and catalyze this incredibly important topic in the coming year to the outdoor and snowsports industries. We value your feedback and frankly, need it, to do the best job we can with this responsibility.
Until tomorrow….

kco