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Posted: March 01, 2010

State of the state: Conventions

Ski-industry event leaves Vegas for Denver

Eric Peterson

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More than 18,000 people descended on Denver for the SnowSports Industry America (SIA) Snow Show in late January, with a corresponding "Demo Days" at Winter Park in early February. The convention - the biggest in the industry - was in Denver after a long tenure in Las Vegas.

This year's event represents the first show in an 11-year deal - unusually long for the convention biz.

With an exhibit hall segmented into skis, snowboards, accessories, fashion, retail services and destinations, the show did not disappoint, featuring everything from Teflon-based Zardoz ski wax to skis with tiki-themed hand-carved wooden inlays from Breckenridge-based Ski Logik to 90-year-old outerwear pioneer Klaus Obermeyer holding court with attendees.

As one-sixth of SIA members call Colorado home, the show was a hit for the record 78 local companies in attendance. "I hate Vegas," said Josh McGlothlin, co-founder of Longmont's Dohm-Icebox, a maker of knit ski caps. "Vegas wasn't conducive to business because people lose their minds there."

The show's layout is much better in the Colorado Convention Center, he adds. "The layout was terrible in Vegas."

Outerwear legend Klaus Obermeyer, founder of Aspen's Sport Obermeyer, characterized the show as "really busy," commending the move to Colorado. "I naturally like it, because I think Colorado is the center of skiing on this continent."

Obermeyer believes the big snowstorms in the East and Southwest have given the industry a bump after sales figures hit a 10-year low in 2009. "The ski industry depends 75 percent on perceived snow conditions and 25 percent on economic conditions."

Todd Madsen, sales director at Carlsbad, Calif.-based goggle-maker Spy Optic, labeled the 2010 show as "on par" with Vegas. "This year is a much more positive economic environment," he added. "The optimism is back."

On the move to Denver: "If you're a Colorado company, it's great," Madsen said. "But a lot of our California accounts said they weren't coming - an unfortunately high percentage." He said Canadian and Utah-based buyers were similarly reticent.

Like a fellow Vermont-based company, snowboard titan Burton, headwear-maker Turtle Fur's booth sported a "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" backdrop as part of a Sin City theme this year. The company's Tim Nelson said the booth was not a leftover from shows past, but "a little déjà vu."

"There are mixed emotions about the move," he said. Next year Turtle Fur's booth will likely sport an image of the Rockies, he added. Nelson attended every show in Vegas for 37 years after it moved from New York in the early 1970s "so there's a little bit of nostalgia."

Jennifer Rudolph of Colorado Ski Country USA says the show was a hit, with attendees and energy level topping projections. "This is an 11-year gig - we've got a long way to go," she said. "But it's a perfect marriage."

The show also exceeded the expectations of Rich Grant, director of communications at Visit Denver. "I think this is the new Stock Show for Denver," he said. "Denver has never embraced winter in its marketing - we always tout 300 days of sunshine a year. This will change that."

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Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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