Outdoor Retailer, the organizer of the country’s largest gatherings of outdoor recreation industry retailers, announced on Thursday that they’ll be moving their trade shows from Utah to Denver, starting in January 2018. The move comes after the organization’s relationship with their previous host of 22 years, Salt Lake City, turned sour in a spat over protecting public lands.

Earlier this year, Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert asked the Trump administration to consider rescinding the Obama-era designation of Bears Ears National Monument. As a result, Patagonia and other retailers chose to boycott Outdoor Retailer in protest; a powerful gesture that made big waves in the industry. Soon after, Outdoor Retailer followed suit, announcing that they were looking for a new host city for their massive and mega-popular shows.

The decision brings three shows to the Colorado Convention Center for the next five years—the combined Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show (Emerald Expositions, the operator of Outdoor Retailer, purchased Snowsports Industries America’s (SIA) Snow Show, which was already hosted in Denver, in May), the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, and the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market—for a total economic impact of about $110 million per year, according to numbers provided by Outdoor Retailer. The three shows are expected to bring more than 85,000 attendees to the Mile High City each year.

Colorado lobbied hard to land Outdoor Retailer in Denver and reap those benefits, and it’s a major loss for Salt Lake City. According to Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, state and city offices have been working in concert to court the trade show since it put out a bid for new hosts about five months ago.

Not only was the Colorado coalition able to nail down the complex logistics of hosting the behemoth event in Denver on short notice, they also successfully made the case to Outdoor Retailer that the Mile High City is a worthy benefactor, given the company’s political reasons for leaving Utah.

Benitez says he believes the recently created Colorado Public Lands Day and the state’s overall political landscape, which generally enjoys widespread deference to public lands, were contributing factors. “We have a state-level, mandated holiday [Colorado Public Lands Day], and being one of the only states to have that, they took notice,” Benitez says. “Not only are we saying we celebrate these public lands for protection and preservation, but we also celebrate these public lands for the utilization and the recreation, and that speaks well of the economy.”

Outdoor Retailer did not respond to requests for comment, but in a statement posted on their website, group show director Marisa Nicholson wrote about the importance of their host city valuing outdoor recreation. “Denver is the undeniable industry choice,” Nicholson says. “Bringing these organizations together and basing the show in a state that places such a high value on outdoor recreation is the best move we can make for the outdoor industry.”

Haley Gray
Haley Gray
Haley Gray is a Boulder-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in 5280, Roads and Kingdoms, Boulder Magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal.