When COVID-19 landed in Italy, one of the first and hardest-hit countries outside of China, the hiking shoe company Salewa pivoted immediately from making its usual product to importing 16.5 million face masks and 550,000 medical gowns from China for Italian doctors and nurses facing the Western Hemisphere’s first big breakout of the disease. Then it used its own leftover Gore-Tex and Powertex fabrics to make thousands more washable and reusable medical gowns and face masks. Ever since, hundreds of outdoor brands, retailers, organizations, athletes, and everyday people have stepped up to help their fellow citizens deal with the disruption and disease. Here is a collection of some of the best- (and least-) known responders, all of whom have answered the call for help in unique and impactful ways. The surprise is it’s not sur- prising at all that our industry would respond like it has.
Hoka One One
Keeping an eye on underrepresented populations most at risk
Hoka, creator of shoes with rocker that makes running more comfortable, used its multimillion-dollar might to get 5,000 pairs of shoes to front-line workers through its partnerships with retailers like UtahRUN. And just as cool, Hoka’s parent company, Deckers, awarded a $125,000 grant to Women’s Economic Ventures, an organization aimed at empowering women business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs to provide emergency financial assistance during COVID-19, knowing, in global crisis, under- represented populations (refugees, POC, women, LGBTQIA+) are the most at risk.
Allied Feather & Down
Seeing a niche in the underserved and filling it
Best known for supplying down insula- tion to brands like Black Diamond, Helly Hansen, Stio, and Arc’teryx, Allied Feather & Down also has a bedding division in Los Angeles. In early March, it started using its premium cotton to make masks, to the tune of 10,000 per day for front-line workers. Equally impactful was the company’s focus on LA’s vast homeless population, a community that often can’t comply with stay- at-home orders or wash hands frequently, two of the most effective steps in stopping the virus. In May, Allied started donating masks to Union Rescue Mission’s shelter. As the need for and use of masks grows exponentially as COVID-19 cases ramp up again, Allied President Daniel Uretsky says, “It’s important we also do not lose sight of creating solutions that are sustain- able without negative impact on the environment. It’s not a stretch to think that the reliance on disposable masks will be the next environmental catastrophe.”
Protecting the heads and hearts of bike couriers in urban areas hit by COVID-19
Women-owned Thousand makes sustainable bike helmets for couriers and recreational cyclists with a larger mission: Get more people on bikes in order to cut emissions. When the pandemic hit, the company broadened its mission to get helmets in the hands of delivery folk and couriers risking their lives to to keep essential products moving to essential workers. “A helmet is a product folks rely on to potentially save their lives while they do their jobs,” says Gloria Hwang, Thousand CEO and founder. So Thousand started the Courier Care Program in March, which offers a free Thousand Heritage bike helmet to bike-delivery workers who simply sent the company an email. As of today, Thousand’s program has protected the heads of more than 200 essential bike couriers delivering food and supplies around the country.
Activating community to get bikes to essential workers
Early on during the crisis, Specialized drew from knowledge it’s had for decades: In ad- dition to offering a safe and reliable mode
of transportation, bikes are a healthy outlet for mental and physical stress release. So the company donated 500 new bikes, each worth between $500 and $4,000, directly to health care workers, grocery store clerks, farmers, and other essential employees. “This is the
largest crisis our generation has ever seen,” said Specialized’s CEO Mike Sinyard. So he went the extra mile by donating 350,000 protective face masks to hospitals in New York City—and is on track to donate 1 million total
Keeping scrap material out of the landfill by repurposing it into masks
Cotopaxi jumped on the mask bandwagon, but with a dual purpose. After COVID-19 shut down shops (and stunted sales), the brand had a great surplus in clothing, bag, and backpack materials. It began selling Teca face masks (with the popular “Do Good” logo stitched on them) online at cotopaxi.com in June and has since sold over 22,750. For every mask a person buys, Cotopaxi will give one to someone in need through its partner Mercy Corps. Cotopaxi has also raised and donated over $300,000 so far for COVID-19 relief programs. “When the pandemic began, we didn’t have to pivot anything, we simply did what we’ve always done,” says founder Dave Smith. “We put people first and explored how we could leverage our brand to help others.”
DPS Skis, Goal Zero, Petzl, and Eastman Machine Company
Collaborating to manufacture face shields for the Utah Department of Health
In April, these four brands announced their intent to join forces in the “expeditious manufacturing of key personal protective equipment for the Utah medical community.” Production of the shields took place at DPS’ factory in Salt Lake City, and each brand contributed to the construction, with tooling donated by Eastman, raw materials purchased by Goal Zero, and headlamp headbands provided by Petzl. It took 15 tries before product engineers liked the results and began high-volume production; since then, the team has produced 85,000 shields and is expected to make more, as outdoor and snowsports retailers continue to order.
Making masks … and masks … and masks … for the masses
Beginning in March, Outdoor Research began a major internal effort to convert a large portion of its U.S. manufacturing operations to be able to produce up to 200,000 protective face masks per day for state and federal agencies in their fight against COVID-19. Simultaneously, it also launched a separate effort to offer consumers fabric masks with a replaceable filter similar to the ones used by the feds. These are currently available to organizations whose employees or constituents are on the front lines, to OR’s retailer base, and to consumers through its website. And OR donated 8,000 masks to specialty retail partners across the U.S. for their staff to ensure they could reopen safely. Bonus: With this new production, the brand added 100 jobs in Seattle in May. “Since we were in the relatively unique position of having an on-site manufacturing facility here in Seattle, it was—simply put—a way that we could help quickly,” says Andy Burke, head of sales for Outdoor Research.
Backwoods 2.0, Austin, Texas
Helping local businesses while staying afloat
Backwoods 2.0’s closed its five stores to the public well before it was ever mandated. It then poured its energy into helping other area businesses stay afloat by highlighting them on social media. At the same time the shop was also offering curbside pickup, free local delivery, a 10% bonus
on any gift card over $100, and shopping via its website. But nothing took off like Backwoods’ Gear-Up for Adventure Giveaways, which helped the store generate sales and became a fun way for customers to support a small business in a time of crisis. Now the stores have reopened—at the perfect time. “Fortunately June and July are great months for our business, and people are coming in looking to gear up for their summer adventures,” says Backwoods marketing director Robert Jones.
Sportsman & Ski Haus, Montana
Proving the power of community and boosting morale
In March, Sportsman & Ski Haus owner Joe Power had an astonishing revelation. As closures started and the grocery stores in his town of Whitefish were becoming barren, he woke up at 2 a.m. worried about his community’s food insecurities. He took $25,000 worth of backpacking meals from his inventory and had his staff choose the food banks to which they’d like to donate the food. This helped lift the spirits of his team, who were paid through the quaran- tine, even though his stores were closed.
Stepping up for everyone
The ski and sporting goods giant has donated $165,000 to COVID-19-relief organizations in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Washington—all states in which Christy Sports operates—after which Colorado Gov. Jared Polis praised the company for its generosity. It kept the goodwill coming in April with a commitment to donate 10% of all online sales and 10% of all patio furniture sales to additional communities in need.
RVs 4 MDs (in partnership with Kampgrounds of America Inc.)
Protecting health care providers’ families against infection by sheltering doctors
When Jason Phillips’ work as an ER doctor began exposing him to thousands of cases of COVID-19, his wife, Emily, worried that he’d infect her and their three children, two of whom struggle with asthma. So Emily created a Facebook group asking RV and camper owners across the country to share their on-the-road homes with front-line workers. The response was incredible. Submissions have reached 80,000-plus, with 1,800 matches. Partnerships with commercial organizations also formed, including KOA, which operates 458 campgrounds across the country. Props to co-founder Holly Haggard, who says, “It doesn’t matter how you vote … this is all about … complete strangers coming together, offering help to someone they’ve never met, and changing lives forever.”
American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA)
Crafting a “psychological first-aid kit” to help the climbing world get through the crisis
Partnering with Boulder, Colorado-based nurse, psychologist, and first responder Laura McGladrey, the AMGA built a COVID-19 “psychological first-aid kit” filled with tips to help outdoor professionals stay mentally healthy during quarantine and the pandemic. When it ran on Outside Online, thousands of other outdoor lovers benefited. Some tips included create ‘corona-free’ zones by engaging in an activity like reading or baking because staying in the moment helps “downshift” the nervous system and “cultivate hope” by doing things like planting a garden or starting a gratitude journal with a friend.
Outdoor Industry Association
Pivoting in a flash to help suppliers, factories, and brands navigate global shutdown
In the span of just two weeks in March, specialty outdoor retail shops across the country and their worldwide supply chains—suppliers, factories, and brands—were forced to halt their operations and close their doors indefinitely. Uncertainty and angst came next, as business owners and employees scrambled for guidance, reliable information, and answers about how to keep their businesses afloat. In a matter of days, OIA built and launched a robust resource hub on its website with curated, up-to-date, and easy-to-navigate sections to help businesses deal with everything from the small business and paycheck protection loan application process to manufacturing pivots that would allow them to shift their production capabilities in order to make personal protective equipment. A week later, OIA began hosting weekly webinars and podcasts on topics relevant to
the quickly changing landscape. As Memorial Day approached, OIA joined partner organi- zations to launch the #RecreateResponsibly campaign, an initiative that went viral on social media and helped ensure that the record number of people finding solace in the outdoors did so safely and responsibly.
Snowsports Industries of America
Reigning skiers in to help protect both themselves and rural communities
When ski areas shut down and skiers flooded the backcountry instead of sheltering at home, SIA’s president, Nick Sargent, took a risky stance for an organization whose main mission is the promotion of winter snowsports. Through SIA, he created the #curbyourturns campaign, asking shredders to stay home. The gamble was that SIA’s members wouldn’t support the cause. But lucky for SIA, says Sargent, its members supported, shared, and represented the campaign to “flatten the curve, support the shelter-in-place rules, and mitigate any unnecessary trips to the clinics or hospitals in [a given region].” The campaign had a global reach, with over 15 media placements and multiple athlete endorsements. “There was also lots of engagement with winter outdoor enthusiasts. We held one of our weekly Town Halls about this—Recreating Responsibly During the Pandemic—featuring media, a first responder, an avalanche center, and a ski area,” Sargent says.
The Redside Foundation
Helping river guides navigate working during the pandemic
“Outdoor guides, be they on rivers, in the mountains, or in deserts (or other places), are feeling the one-two punch of losing seasonal work they rely on to support them year-round and the ability to get outside as much as they’re used to, thanks to stay-at-home or safer-at-home mandates in many U.S. states,” says Shannon Walton, executive director of the Redside Foundation. Both Redside and the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) answered their communities’ calls: Redside by offering mental and emotional health support and counseling, FAQs of guide protocol during the pandemic, COVID resources such as unemployment and assistance resources, and a guide-friendly job board.
Moving our industry forward amid trauma
In early March, Carpenter, who founded Verde Brand Communications in 2001, start- ed leading weekly SIA Town Hall discussions targeted to specialty brands and retailers to help them navigate the crisis. Carpenter has now moderated 11 of these to virtual audi- ences ranging from 110 to 500 participants. She’s also led similar webinars for the AMGA, the National Bicycle Dealer Association, and OIA. “We had clients who were truly stuck and did not know how to communicate in- ternally or externally when COVID-19 hit,” Carpenter says. “They were considering going dark, which, as specialty brands, is the worst thing they could do. They were considering staying silent through the more recent unrest as well. We offered a framework and strategy to help them understand how they could not only be there for their audiences, but also be part of the way forward.”
Returning to a former career—full-time nursing—to help the sick and dying
Pfaff, a climber on The North Face athlete team with first ascents in India, Canada, Nepal, and Bolivia, has also worked as an ER and trauma nurse for 16 years. When COVID-19 hit, she was training for an expedition in Alaska. Instead, she pivoted, calling the local hospital in Glenwood Springs, near her home in Carbondale, Colorado, and asked if she could pitch in. She was signed on imme- diately and awaited the worst. Thankfully, Garfield County COVID-19 cases were low, but she was happy to assist, she says, in the same way “a climber or someone who skis would want to help their fellow climbers or skiers out of trouble.” Later, her position was phased out, but she’s ready to reengage should the numbers in Colorado warrant it.
Creating a system to link manufacturers and material suppliers with essential providers during the crisis
Multiple people recommended we give a shout out to Wood for her idea to link manu- facturers to raw materials through her Supply Connector website service, which works as a directory to help connect materials, resources, and manufacturers—many in the outdoor world—with health care systems and pro- viders. “I was getting calls from hospitals in Colorado to suppliers in North Carolina and found myself trying to make some early connections in March,” she says. “Like many folks in the industry, I felt compelled to do some- thing to help.” Supply Connector went live on April 10, and now has more than 26 states represented through hundreds of manufacturer listings and over 45,000 page visits. Through the experience, Wood has learned the value of “summoning patience while in a time of urgency” and that the outdoor industry “really knows the meaning of collaboration,” she says.
Calling attention to the plight of indigenous populations during the pandemic
Refsnider has been involved in the Navajo Nation Trails Task Force and the Navajo-based nonprofit Navajo YES for the past few years as they’ve been ramping up small trail building and related economic development projects. Additionally, his company, Bikepacking Roots, reaches recreationalists who ride on the Nation. As soon as the pandemic began to grow across the West, he started receiving notes from folks in towns
along popular bikepacking routes asking Bikepacking Roots to help spread the message to stay away for the time being.“There are so many factors that make Indigenous populations more susceptible to a rapid spread of viruses like COVID-19,” he says. They include higher rates of underlying health conditions, home environments with family members of numerous generations living together, a common reliance on hauled water, the list goes on. “With all the challenges residents of rural communities—Indigenous or otherwise—face, recreationalists shouldn’t be risking complicating things any further,” he says.
Volunteering to help others by delivering one meal at a time
“Let us not forget the millions of everyday citizens who have taken it as their mission to provide the support they can to those in need in their own communities,” former Skiing magazine editor Sam Bass reminded us with his nomination of Barry Lee, who delivered products to people in need throughout the early and ongoing stages of the pandemic. Lee lives near Nederland, Colorado, and is a brand development and marketing ambassador for Floyd’s of Leadville. He has volunteered, worked with, and started nonprofit community-focused outdoor programs for the last 20 years. “I helped because I feel super-fortunate even at this time due to being an athlete and being surrounded by local community partners.”