Climate change dominates Colorado’s Outdoor Retailer showcase

The Big Blue Mascot for the IKON ski pass peeks in on the first day of the Outdoor Retailer Outdoor and Snow Show Wednesday at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock, The Gazette.

A party always accompanies the biggest gathering of one of America’s trendiest industries. That was no exception Wednesday at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show’s kickoff breakfast.

On big screens in a packed ballroom, skiers and snowboarders made epic turns and jumps on powdery mountainsides as electronic music blared on loudspeakers.

But then came a grim message.

“If we don’t have winter, we don’t have business,” said Nick Sargent, president of Snowsports Industries America, speaking before some of the 1,000 exhibitors and 10,000 buyers slated to attend the three-day extravaganza. “We must take action. You all need to take action.”

Climate change was the opening theme of the trade show making its third annual stop in the Mile High City. Before retailers from around the world scoured the Colorado Convention Center halls for gear to add to their racks and shelves, they were sent with a call for greater good.

The kickoff breakfast was centered on 2019’s United Nations report that warned “deeper and faster (greenhouse gas emissions) cuts are now required” to curb global warming. At a luncheon Thursday, executives from leading brands are scheduled to explore solutions. Friday afternoon, representatives from mountain towns are invited to learn about paths to carbon neutrality in the new decade.

Also Friday, a climate march is set to start from the Convention Center and make its way to the Capitol. The rally has been organized by alpinist Caroline Gleich and activist Katie Boué.

“Our industry and community at large are responsible for harnessing our collective power to drive systemic change,” reads the event’s Facebook page.

Such was the sentiment within Wednesday’s ballroom, where stoked athletes on the big screens gave way to stark quotes.

“Climate risk is investment risk,” read one from Larry Fink, the billionaire behind the global money management firm BlackRock.

Read another from major consultant McKinsey & Co.: “Earth to CEO: Your company is already at risk from climate change.”

On stage, industry leaders spoke of snowpack becoming more unpredictable along with river flows; of hotter, longer summers and vanishing winters; of natural disasters increasingly reaching the scale of Australia’s recent wildfires.

Nora Stowell, the Outdoor Industry Association’s board chair, spoke before a picture of a barren ski slope. “Climate change is having a direct impact on outdoor recreation,” she said. “The quality of our outdoor experiences are suffering.”

Which is why last year the association mobilized with Snowsports Industries America and the National Ski Areas Association to launch the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership, meant to drive politics with an influence worth $887 billion — the industry’s reported consumer spending every year.

In May to meet with legislators in D.C., representatives from Pepsi, Microsoft and Nike were also on hand to tout the partnership’s cause, said National Ski Areas Association President Kelly Pawlak.

“We were there with a clear message to Congress, that by putting a price on carbon, we’re going to be able to bring down greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time grow the economy.”

She said they’d be returning to lobby this summer — hopefully with more members of an initiative the Outdoor Industry Association announced this week.

The Climate Action Corps is being built to be the largest industry collaboration on the issue and gives businesses a road map for carbon-cutting. Founding members include REI, whose CEO, Eric Artz, told employees in a 2019 letter: “Climate change is, beyond a doubt, the biggest existential threat facing the outdoors and REI’s survival for another 81 years.”

It is an “overwhelming” threat, causing “paralysis” and “sense of fatalism” for those taking it on, said Nancy Hirshberg. The climate advocate was part of a panel Wednesday, where she applauded the Outdoor Industry Association’s new collaboration.

“But I’ll be really honest,” Hirshberg said. “If every company in this industry is (carbon) neutral, we’d still barely move the dial. It’s not enough. What’s really needed is, we need a tsunami right now of involvement in policy. Climate change is a systemic, collective problem, and the only way to solve that is systemically and collectively.”


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