Rolling into the Beeler lot across the covered bridge at Colorado’s Copper Mountain Village off I-70, I was hit with a bit of déjà vu. This would be my sixth On-Snow Demo at the resort since SIA moved from Vegas to Denver in 2010 (the first two years, the demo took place at Winter Park Resort). I booted up in my van and headed to the tents. And, indeed, it was mostly the same, not in a bad way, but perhaps I was craving something different, something new. Overall, the vendors we talked to agreed the format and timing make sense in conjunction with the Show. The snowboarder’s rap music and vape clouds were sequestered over in the west parking lot as usual, the Nordic crowd gathered in its own area in the East Village, and the rest of the 130 exhibiting brands spread from Burning Stones Plaza, where the Demo has a more Outdoor Retailer vibe, up to the American Flyer lift—replete with its new, improved Euro-style blue bubble chairs—where the Demo feels like a more Alpine-focused, true buyer-centric event.
Which leads us to our first take away:
- The On-Snow is not a marketing show.
In fact there was virtually no media attending the demo this year. We ran into a couple folks from Freeskier, someone from the Summit Daily News, and a handful of PR folks manning some booths, but attendees are mostly brand reps, demo fleet managers, retail employees, shop owners, and buyers. Those demographics make for a very successful buying show with more of an inner circle, true industry feel, but less of a marketing event, especially when compared to the trade show floor and the way the Show was evolving in Salt Lake City. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but for many who attend Outdoor Retailer, the On Snow doesn’t feel like the right fit for them, especially if you have to pay $90 to attend and that leads us to our next point:
- What happened to the pre-show demo day?
Everyone loved this annual event where winter outdoor brands gathered with firepits, friendly competitions like the Backcountry Access avi-shovel digging contest, giveaways, adjacent winter-friendly brands like MSR, plenty of snowshoes, and all the latest skis and boots to demo from those exhibiting at the Show. It was a more inclusive event. Sadly, the ever-increasing diversity seen at the Show quickly disappeared at the On Snow, making one skeptical if the whole thing wasn’t just a friendly marketing ploy after all. But in truth, the SIA demo was always focused primarily on the Alpine brands, rep groups, and buyers getting out on as many new models as possible over two days. Will Denver ever see a pre-show on-snow demo day again to get people psyched and fired up for three days indoors? It could be more inclusive and focused on media, with a wider array of winter brands, perhaps with a consumer friendly component as well? Only time will tell. Copper is the perfect location due to its uncrowded base area and plenty of free parking nearby.
- The On-Snow has to be mid-week.
It should be pretty obvious to most that no nearby Colorado ski area could host an event like the On-Snow Demo over a weekend. Our industry contingency takes over most of the base area and a good chunk of the lodging at Copper Mountain. And it’s far from a consumer-facing event, so we need some exclusivity. Take advantage of the weekend between the Show and the demo, says SIA’s Nick Sargent. Scarpa and other leading brands did just that—using the weekend to take key dealers and employees skiing and hold company pow-wows. Instead of complaining about the two days of separation, I recommend getting out with friends and co-workers and experiencing what the Colorado ski economy has to offer. See what makes this business really tick. Show organizers were even offering greatly discounted lift tickets to help people make the most of the time.
- Helmets and goggles galore
Besides skis, boards and boots, the only other real noticeable presence at the On-Snow is all of the helmet and goggle brands proliferating on the trade show floor. Why so many helmet and goggle manufacturers at the demo? It’s one category, like skis, that are best experienced on-snow. “It’s important for POC to be at the On Snow Demo because many of our technologies like our Clarity lenses, SPIN pads and goggle/helmet integration are best experienced in person and on snow,” said Kelley Fitzpatrick, internal sales rep for POC. “It’s also a unique opportunity to for retailers and buyers to experience our commitment to POC’s safety mission through the latest product we’re introducing at the event.” Perhaps if this accessory category sees the value in the on-snow demo, other brands and categories will too, and the event will grow.
- Survival of the Indy Brands
“I’m not sure they compete on a national or global level, but I heard some really good chatter about people identifying with local brands,” says Elan marketing coordinator Ben Fresco. “It’s nice to see pride in local business, whether it be a ski manufacturer, the local ski shop, or the local brewery.” Walking down the snowy aisles, I was re-inspired, shaking off my initial feeling of déjà vu, with many small ski brands I didn’t even recognize hawking their wares. Deviation. Crosson. Facet. Prior. Many of the small brands of yesterday–Icelantic, DPS, Liberty, RMU–have grown up, and others have gone direct to consumer (4Frnt, for example), making room for even more, smaller, hungrier ski brands to come in, empowered by easier access to manufacturing and digital marketing that didn’t exist a decade ago. Apparently there’s still plenty of room for growth in the Alpine ski market, plenty of young people hungry for something new, not to mention the appetite for alpine touring (AT) and backcountry gear that has been driving the market for several years. It’s great that there’s so much friendly competition, not just among the major brands (K2, Salomon, Volkl, Blizzard, etc.), but within the entire hardgoods industry.
So perhaps the pie is growing after all. If we continue playing nice in the sandbox, focusing on true innovation and sustainability, and adapting to a dynamic retail environment, here’s to watching the On-Snow Demo continue to evolve and grow, with less déjà vu, and more pure stoke.