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Outdoor Retailer debuts in Denver. Photo by Jay Bouchard

Rant: Outdoor Retailer’s First Night Was Full Of Surprises

And not all of them were nice ones.

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Last night marked the opening celebrations of the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, a four-day event that brings gear companies, policy thought leaders, and adventure sport and travel industry insiders from around the country (and some from around the world) to Denver. One of the evening’s signature events—Night Zero Untamed, a well-curated affair with elegantly executed food and drinks by the likes of Acorn, Ultreia, Infinite Monkey Theorem, and Stranahan’s—featured speeches from Gov. John Hickenlooper and leading industry pros such as Luis Benitez (director of Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry), Peter Metcalf (founder of Black Diamond), and Eric Larsen, perhaps the most decorated polar explorer in modern history. It was a rousing celebration of Colorado’s growing outdoor recreation industry and a call to action to preserve our precious wild spaces. It was also a bit of an embarrassment.

From the time the speeches began, around 8:30 p.m., every person who took to the stage had to ask the crowd at the back of the room to quiet down so the audience could hear. By the time Larsen hit the podium, the frustration was palpable. Citing a technique he’d used as a fourth-grade teacher, he simply stood silently on the stage waiting for the din to die down. His silence incited a round of shushing that would have been comical had it not been so mortifying. What a disappointing display on the first night of Outdoor Retailer’s inaugural appearance in the Mile High City.

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Denver fought hard to become the host for the twice-yearly event after organizers elected to move the show out of Salt Lake City, where it had been held for 20 years, in response to Utah politicians’ lack of support for preserving public lands. Our selection over cities such as Portland, Chicago, and Minneapolis signaled a triumph of Colorado’s outdoor rec sector—one that generates $28 billion in consumer spending annually.

Part of the charm of OR has long been its festive atmosphere; the beer flows freely at many of the show’s events. I get that. But those who were simply out to party with fellow adventure sport cronies should have gone upstairs to the third floor, where there was more food and booze—and no speakers.

Put another way: There’s a time and place for everything, and during the speeches on the second floor of the McNichols Civic Center Building wasn’t the time or place to be loudly schmoozing with colleagues. Doing so was not only disrespectful to the speakers, but also to the audience members and the very serious issues being discussed.

Collectively, we’re better than that. Here’s hoping as the weekend goes on that we show it. So maybe the next time Larsen talks, people in third row won’t have to cup their ears to hear him solemnly declare that being an explorer used to mean being the first to discover a place, but that in today’s world—a world in which the disappearance of Arctic ice makes polar travel nearly impossible—he fears exploring might soon come to mean being the last to see a landscape intact.

At least, I think that’s what he said. I can’t be sure. I couldn’t really hear.

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