By Doug Schnitzspahn
While the new Hyatt Regency towering up from the old South Pavilion of the Salt Palace may be the most obvious big change here in Salt Lake City for attendees at Outdoor Retailer, an even more important sea change has continued when it comes to how the city is taking on issues that matter to the outdoor industry. Take air pollution. Salt Lake City mayor Erin Mendenhall, who was elected on a green platform in 2020, has been hard at work on city-wide air quality initiatives aimed at slowing climate change and improving local air quality. And these efforts are continuing to ramp up as the city prepares to make a bid to host another Olympic Winter Games in 2030 or 2034.
At the show, Mendenhall joined in a conversation with local Olympians Devin Logan, a Protect Our Winters athlete who won silver in slopestyle in 2014, and Chris Mazdzer, who took home silver in the luge in 2018, as well as four-time Olympic speed skater Catherine Raney Norman, who currently serves as the chair of the Salt Lake City Committee for the Games, to discuss why the city wants the games back, how it is working to become a beacon of sustainability to woo the International Olympic Committee, and how those efforts mesh with the return of Outdoor Retailer to Utah. Held at the new Community Action Center (in the New@OR zone), the session showed just how committed the city is to leading the way when it comes to sustainability and sport.
“I am not the Games expert on this panel by any means, but I believe we will have an Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and it’s a really a question of whether it’s 2030 or 2034,” said Mendenhall. “Regardless of when it is, this whole thing will be electrified. That’s phenomenal. … We shouldn’t be growing to accommodate everyone in their car in perpetuity. We should be making a transition to public transportation in a much bigger way than we have been. And I know that the games will help be a catalyst to compel that kind of capital infrastructure build out that’s necessary. But it will be a lasting shift to the experience of living along the Wasatch front for decades to come.”
And while there has been some controversy over the Show moving back to Utah, this group made it clear the city is proud of its ongoing record when it comes to values the outdoor industry cares about.
“I just want to say thank you to OR for coming back,” said Norman. “I think we are in a room where every single one of us loves sport. I think we’re in a room of people who like to play really hard and we have a city like Salt Lake where we have access to these beautiful mountains and these trails and the roads—we’re so blessed and lucky, right?”
Mendenhall agreed and encouraged attendees and Utahans to continue the conversations that the return of the Show and an Olympic bid have only deepened. “The Games will come back,” she said. “It’s only a matter of when. So, let’s be as engaged as a community as we possibly can.”
The session anchored the purpose of the Community Action Center, which highlights the Show’s commitment to be a presence when it comes to conversations and decisions on issues dear to the outdoor industry as it moves back to Utah.
“When we were coming back to Salt Lake, one of the big things that was really important to us was this opportunity to have a seat at the table and for our industry to have a seat at the table,” said Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer senior vice president and show director. “So, we have been talking with state and local leaders and working closely with Visit Salt Lake, who essentially established the Business With Purpose committee. From there we’ve been able to have ongoing meetings, bringing industry folks together to talk about the things that are important, about what’s happening in Utah, and how we can be working together so that our visions are aligned.”
That philosophy of the Show using its influence as an advocate for outdoor issues is key to the way it must adapt to thrive in a new economic landscape where values are as important as business at the trade show.
“I’ve been with Outdoor Retailer for 19 years, so I’ve seen a lot of change,” said Nicholson. “Myself, my team, we care about this industry. And when we are thinking about how we bring the community together and what we can do in around the show to support the industry, we’re really trying to look at it from different angles of what people need and how they need to engage—building out the education sessions, building out activities, how we lay out the floor plan in a way where it gives brand recognition—but all these advocacy groups and how we bring them into the fold is really important. So, we’re intentional about the Show and how we’re planning it. It’s not a rinse and repeat. We’re really focusing on what conversations we need to have and how do we bring the right people in to help lead them. This is where the industry is really going to learn and grow.”