Eugene Buchanan: Time for a trade show trek
February 8, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Live in Ski Town USA and there's a good chance either you or someone you know heads down to the annual SnowSports Industries America (SIA) trade show every January in Denver. It's where anyone who's anyone in snow sports hobnobs with industry honchos to buy, sell and schmooze.
Plenty of folks from the Yampa Valley make the annual pilgrimage, whether they're manufacturers like SmartWool and Point 6, retailers like Ski Haus, Christy Sports and One Stop Ski Shop, athletes like Penn Lukens, reps like Marty Carrigan, or just hangers-on hoping to score free schwag. Then there are guys like me, more latter than former, who work in the editorial trenches, publishing industry rags for the show. It's from that position that I offer an inside look at the industry's biggest stage.
The show is better now that it's in Denver instead of Las Vegas, where I once didn't make it outside for 44 consecutive hours. Hotel room. Convention hall. Dinner. Parties. Repeat. All without a lick of fresh air. And while every retail year is a gamble in terms of snowfall, I'm betting no one is missing Sin City's roulette tables in Mile High, where the looming mountains upstage the MGM.
For me, SIA starts with a crack-of-dawn drive over Rabbit Ears Pass and navigating the Convention Center's parking garage before settling into my office digs. There, the top editors dish out assignments like Rendezvous workers slinging pizza to lunchtime skiers.
"Check out that Mike Carey story," I'm assigned, tasked with interviewing a Seirus Gloves exec who's also an NFL referee (I can't get him to comment on Tebow). There are other celebrities to chase down, from a mohawked Glen Plake at the Dynastar booth to huckers JP Auclair and Simon Dumont.
Such elbow-rubbing comes with the territory. I've tracked down Pamela Anderson regarding her signature snowboard and Snoop Dogg for his smokin' endorsement of Skull Candy headphones, and I once challenged mountaineer Reinhold Messner to a breath-holding contest. Last year I even played in an industry hockey game with Joe Sakic on my squad.
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But the main emphasis at SIA is on product — you know, the fresh stuff that makes you feel like a loser because everything you own is as outdated as red bandanas and K2 Cheeseburgers. What are the hot tickets this year? In goggles, it's Zeal Optics' new iON, which come with a built-in video camera, and Anon's magnetic changeable lenses. For skis, a buck thirty is the new 110 underfoot, with Volkl's new Kuro measuring 164 mm undersole. And don't neglect K2's new Rolling Stones skis, or snowboards whose edges resemble sine waves. In gloves, digital compatibility is de rigueur — handpieces without SmartTouch, push-button heating and aloe-treated liners are left in the Precambrian cold. Bindings had better have a tour mode or be "ACL-proof," as claimed by the new KneeBinding.
In chasing all this down around the convention floor, you try to stay clear of the crowded snowboard sector, which is rife with blaring tunes and knit hats, and beeline for your appointment via the more stoic apparel sector, which is filled with the more conservative Obermeyers. And you try to give as much love as you can to the first-time exhibitors — the ones touting Lodgesoxx, helmet covers, electronic ski finders and new boot-carrying contraptions. You'll also get sidetracked by booths like SkyTecSport Ski & Fit, a Beverly Hills-based ski simulator retailing for $100,000 that had me return to the sweatshop sweaty.
Lest you think your work's over at 5 p.m., that's when the "networking" begins, at manufacturer parties and the questionable industry "fashion" show, which is an excuse for execs to dress in drag. The coveted ticket is usually to the Burton party, held at the Diamond Cabaret, and the annual Salomon bash, which last year featured cage dancers. Or you can mingle with ski stars like Dean Cummings, who pimps his new H2O ski and pack line at the Strata Bar.
The bottom line is that you learn a lot about the industry inextricably tied to the foundation of our town. Women's gear has progressed beyond the "shrink it and pink it" phase, kids' gear is as high-tech as that adorned by their parents, and the slackcountry is fueling sales. You also learn that while business is business, it's a fun one to be in, as evidenced by sewers for Backcountry Access mischievously shaping an avalanche airbag into a blow-up doll. Nearly everyone involved is just like you — a skier or rider doing what he or she can to spend time in the mountains.
Which is why as soon as SIA is over, everyone from Steamboat makes a mass exodus home.
Eugene Buchanan is the magazines editor for the Steamboat Today. The upcoming issue of Steamboat Living magazine debuts in March on newsstands across the region.