Could the merging of two markets be closer than you think?

Everything I know about sleeping bags, ice-climbing axes, and new insulating fabrics could fit into a small-sized water bladder. Which is pretty shameful because on the evidence of Outdoor Retail Winter market in Salt Lake during the last week of January, the section of the sports world we often dismiss as granola-eating seems to know all about us. And they’re ready to step up and buy at least some of our products.

This can mean two things: Either snowboard style and vibe is continuing to colonize the rest of the outerwear industry, constantly seeping outward and resulting in less actual distinction between product categories, or specialty outdoor retailers are deciding the time has come for them to carry an increased amount of snowboard product. Both are probably true, and both have implications for our industry, the future of the OR show, and maybe even civilization as we know it.

Take a niche snowboard brand that has been through countless Vegas outings such as Betty Rides, the women’s-outerwear brand. Sales Director Chris Chapman is now aiming for 30 percent of sales to be made through specialty outdoor retail within a couple of seasons.

“The snowboard-specific market is not huge, and there’s a limit to how much women’s product we can sell in it.” says Chapman. “So we’re also trying to sell technical outdoor product to outdoor-orientated women who simply prefer snowboard styling and want a product that works as well on the slopes as on the trail, and importantly also on the street.”

Betty Rides’ color palette has been changed to reflect street style, and features such as the powder skirt can be zipped out.

Of course, if you’re looking for support for the idea that there’s gradual erosion of boundaries between outdoor sports, then the snowboard companies that choose to be at OR are the ones most likely to be spinning this line. But there are some pretty weighty brands backing the idea.

“This is a great show for us,” says Quiksilver National Sales Manager Dave Rosenberger. “Our profile is a multisport/lifestyle company with ‘core credibility, so our snowboard product fits the OR market. Not only do we see our biggest accounts such as REI, which virtually invented the category of the specialty retailer, but in regions like the Midwest plenty of outdoor specialty retailers are also the local snowboard dealers. It all works for us because outerwear is getting more generic. Increasingly it is all-weather protection with an urban influence.”

Even brands considered ‘core such as Bonfire, now think they have something to show to the outdoor specialty-sports market. “This show is key for us in positioning Bonfire,” says Director of Snowboarding Tobin Teichgraeber. “Salomon/Bonfire is so technically driven rather than brand driven that we see this as a way of separating the brand and establishing it for its technical innovation. We aim to be seen as the technical leader among all outerwear but just happen to come from snowboarding. The fact that well-established brands in this market that are already recognized for their technology, such as Arc’teryx, see us as their competition totally stokes us.”

This growing volume of snow-sports products carried by (and perhaps targeted at) outdoor specialty retailers makes the presence of some categories of product obvious. Accessories seem to do well in the OR arena. “Last year was our first time at the show, and we had a good reception,” says Boeri’s Marketing Director Robyn Hasson. “Even if next season our marketing push will be all about snowboarding, the outdoor retailer will play a big part in reaching our customers.”

Demon, a small local accessories company doing some cool things with gloves, was also happy with the reception it received from outdoor retailers.

And Voile finds OR just as important a show as SIA. “This is definitely the right crowd for us,” says Sales Director Daverulard. “Our heart and soul is in the touring community. We’re all about backcountry. The majority of split boards are in fact sold in specialty-outdoor retailers rather than snowboard-specific stores. Although the snowboard-store sales are growing, we can take care of them in Vegas.”

Over the past few months, there have been plenty of mutterings about the future of OR and whether or not it will be combined eventually with SIA. The argument against doing so has been that it makes the show too horizontal with no possible reason why Tilly’s Endurable Canvas Hats should be showing alongside DC snowboard boots. But if the extremely limited evidence of OR is true, then product boundaries are obscuring, snowboard brands are increasingly looking for wider (i.e., more horizontal) distribution, and outdoor retailers are interested in snowboard product that can either be sold as snowboard product, or as technical apparel styled a whole lot better than the functional-but-ugly stuff from the traditional multisport brands.

And, despite the show’s questionable future, this year drew in a record crowd nineteen percent above last year, which all suggests that a widely horizontal group of brands and buyers at a merged show might, in fact, find plenty to talk about.

More evidence. How about that in the two days of the on-snow demo, the only two traditional snowboard brands (i.e., boards that didn’t split or have dual cambers), Ride and Salomon, were mobbed the entire time, making it almost impossible to find anything to ride. These were not snowboard retail buyers testing the product, but specialty-outdoor buyers who snowboard, want to carry snowboard products, and were aching to get out and make a few powder turns.

Or take a company like Vans. Its sales as a street and skate brand far outstrip their snowboard sales. Now the brand is introducing mountain-biking shoes, the principal reason for showing at OR. “We’ll take the chance to push the snowboard product, too, but it’s really about the outdoor shoes,” says regional rep Derek Voit. “People in the snowboard world forget we were a horizontally orientated company almost before we got into snowboarding.”

And as a total aside with nothing to do with the thread of this argument, you have to give some props to Inca and its dual-camber boards. Three years ago at Vegas, people didn’t quite know what to make of them. But here they still are, still pumped, and still out there at every occasion preaching to anyone who will listen about their technology and their future. Maybe it’s faith, maybe it’s that their backers have a ton of money, but for better or worse, they’re still with us. Maybe it’s because they believe in what they’re doing and they love to snowboard.

“We do all sorts of shows¿public shows, regional shows, personal tours for people who contact us,” says Vice President Mark Haleston. “We’re trying to be like a small army going around picking up new soldiers at every stop, and yes, we’re spending a lot of money.”

Of course, also at OR were a couple of snowboard brands that weren’t expecting to shift a ton of product, but had valid, some might even say sneaky, reasons to be there. Ride’s Greta Brumbach points out OR is a better show than SIA for getting a ton of mainstream sports press: “A much wider range of sports-lifestyle publications are at OR than at SIA, which is the main reason we participate.” How come she figured this out when no one else has? Magazines’ top-ten-product-picks-type articles tend to appear in October, so any magazine with a six-month lead time is likely to have already made their product selections earlier than Vegas. Certainly it was hard not to notice the very perky swarm from Blue magazine all sporting tasteless lurid orange T-shirts.

Meanwhile, Flow’s Craig Wilson was ready to admit that OR was a trial run for the rest of this sales season and even next year: “We wanted to combine a sales meeting where our manufacturing and marketing folk were also here. We have a lot of new faces this year, such as new Marketing Director Dave McLauglin and a new Sales Director Martin Trudel. Many of the sales and demo team have never met each other, and it was important we should come together, do some riding, and at the same time work a full demo before the big regional shows. Then the indoor show is a trial run for Vegas, a chance to listen to questions and determine our responses in a show-hall setting.

“Another factor is the Vegas dates next year. We wanted to get onto that production schedule a year earlier so we won’t have any problems nailing our schedules for next year.”¿Matthew Kreitmaning and marketing folk were also here. We have a lot of new faces this year, such as new Marketing Director Dave McLauglin and a new Sales Director Martin Trudel. Many of the sales and demo team have never met each other, and it was important we should come together, do some riding, and at the same time work a full demo before the big regional shows. Then the indoor show is a trial run for Vegas, a chance to listen to questions and determine our responses in a show-hall setting.

“Another factor is the Vegas dates next year. We wanted to get onto that production schedule a year earlier so we won’t have any problems nailing our schedules for next year.”¿Matthew Kreitman