Bears Ears National Monument includes 1.35 million acres of public land located at the southeastern tip of Utah. PHOTO: Courtesy of USGS
Patagonia announced February 7 they will no longer attend Outdoor Retailer, one of the United States' biggest outdoor industry trade shows that takes place in Salt Lake City bi-annually. The announcement comes in response to Utah Governor Gary Herbert's decision to rescind protection of Bears Ears National Monument, 1.35 million acres of public land located at the south eastern tip of Utah that was established by President Obama in his final days as president.
Outdoor Retailer's event organizers, Outdoor Industry Association, made their own announcement on February 6 not to renew their contract ending summer 2018. Show director Marissa Nicholson said the decision is based on the city’s inability to accommodate the show’s growing numbers, as well as the public land issues occurring in the state. The show is proactively looking for a new host location after calling Salt Lake City home since 1996 and bringing around $45 million to the state annually, according to economy reports from the OIA. More than 20,000 attendees come to the event in the winter, with 30,000 attending the summer event.
According to Ski Utah, skiing contributes $1.3 billion to Utah's economy and creates nearly 20,000 seasonal jobs, yet president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake Scott Beck does not think Outdoor Retailer's potential withdraw from Utah will have an impact on the ski industry.
"The ski industry is a shining example of positive stewardship of public lands, and not mired in this conflict at all," says Beck. While Beck believes the short-term impact will not directly affect the ski industry or even the outdoor industry as a whole, he feels it could hypothetically impact future decisions of outdoor industry companies relocating to Utah.
"If the withdrawal of Patagonia does not affect change in the governor's, our legislature's, or our federal delegation's perspective on public lands, and therefore causes the show owners to choose a new location in the future, the impact will be significant," Beck added.
Connie Marshall, director of marketing at Alta, says she does not anticipate any significant effects on the ski industry. Though smaller resorts are watching the issue closely out of concern it could impact people’s decisions on where to take their ski vacations.
"Losing Patagonia is one thing, but if we lose the whole show that's another issue," says Brighton's marketing director Jared Winkler. "People do plan ski vacations before and after the winter show--to lose those skier visits would be disappointing."
While the uncertainty of Bears Ears National Monument looms, Roberts is stressing the importance of uniting as an industry.
"The importance of public lands is the infrastructure that makes our industry," she said. "Making your voice heard, whether it's in Washington or at a local level is the most impactful thing you can do. We need to be unified to be successful."
Patagonia, a forerunner for environmentally conscious and socially responsible business practices, had expressed concerns on the issue in open letter written last month by Yvon Chouinard, the company's founder and staunch environmentalist.
"Every year, outdoor recreation in Utah drives $12 million in consumer spending and supports 122,000 jobs across the state…access to the outdoors is the reason why so many of my friends consider Utah the ultimate place to live," wrote Chouinard. "If Governor Herbert doesn't need us, then we can find a more welcoming home."
Utah-based Black Diamond founder Peter Metcalf also voiced his dismay for Utah's political leadership last month in the Salt Lake Tribune, writing the leadership had "unleashed an all-out assault against Utah’s protected public lands and Utah’s newest monument.” He encouraged Outdoor Retailer to leave the state in disgust.
"Whether the group should stay in Utah or not is based on the public land issues that are occurring," says Amy Roberts, executive director at OIA. "Many members, and Patagonia is the loudest, are expressing discontent over public land issues in the state. We have a long history of advocating for public lands, so efforts to sell them or devalue them are not in alignment with our core industry values. A large part of Utah's economy is driven by outdoor recreation, so it’s an image the state needs to maintain and right now it is being tarnished."