Monday, August 8, 2011

Outdoor Retailer 2011

For only the second time in my life, I got up too early Saturday morning and caught a plane (which left two hours late for a one hour flight)from Denver to Salt Lake City. A quick bus ride into town (no expense account for a taxi) left me blinking in the bright sun outside the Salt Palace, a sprawling building surrounded by vendor tents and athletic people on cell phones. With no time to waste, I picked up my media badge and strode in, more or less beelining it to the climbing ghetto in the farthest corner of the hall. The usual buzz of music, people chatting, and the occasional presentation on a PA system (Ueli Steck doing something for Wenger) began to drum against my skull urging me forward. Going to OR is, for me, like a party where you start with the hangover and gradually begin to feel a bit better as time wears on.

I was here to check in with my publisher and touch base with sponsors as well as meet up with friends and acquaintances who are usually flying around the globe looking for fresh rocks to climb. OR is a bit like academic conferences where, by flying a few hundred, or thousand, miles, you may be more likely to have time to talk with someone who literally works down the hall at the same college. And just like at academic conferences, I never quite feel I really understand what's going on or what I should be doing differently. That said, I had a great, albeit abbreviated time at the show. I talked a good deal with Ben Moon, who traveled an epic distance to bring his excellent clothing to the show, sadly having his newest stuff held up at Customs.

I also finally met up with Josh Helke, owner of Organic, whose pads have saved my backside on too many occasions to count. The talent certainly ran deep among those hanging out at the Organic booth including some I have not seen in quite a while. Paul Robinson was excited about plans for an extended tour of southern Africa while Angie Payne and Alex Johnson were psyched to be back in the US after epic flights from Europe. Sonnie Trotter, whom I have not seen in years, was at the Five Ten booth, where we discussed the need for someone to repeat Tommy Caldwell's materpiece, The Honeymoon is Over, on the Diamond. Chuck Fryberger handed off a DVD copy of his new movie, The Scene, a review of which will turn up soon on this site. And so on.

So the time went way too quickly, especially thanks to Delta Airlines (note to self: do not fly with them unless absolutely necessary) and I had to get back to the airport where this time I got back to Boulder on time. As I said before, I am not quite of this tribe of hardcore OR-ers. Full-on merchandising and branding leaves me with an ambivalent feeling as I tend to admire companies who are original, make great products and stay true to their communities. Seeing the likes of Adidas and Fila trying to make inroads on the climbing market, for example, makes me concerned about the fate of smaller, grassroots companies. Some might argue that that is what capitalism is all about. But should a full-on commodification of the experience of climbing should be too eagerly pursued, what is left over once the marketeers are finished? Some photos on a wall? An ad campaign in a magazine? In the end, I find it extraordinary that such a production can be made of something so simple as someone stepping outside and going for a hike or climbing a rock.


Anonymous said...

That would be the Fila who kitted out Messner and Habeler throughout the 70s, hardly new kids on the block...

Peter Beal said...

I think Adidas has also dipped its toes in this pond before as well. However, the dynamic seems different this time around, now that climbing is much more like a mainstream athletic pursuit.

I remember seeing the Fila logos in photos of Messner but never seeing them anywhere else on anyone else. Fila, Adidas, etc have never became widely accepted climbing brands. The record shows these things can go badly, as Reebok found out when they marketed shoes in the early 90s.