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The top 10 outdoor industry stories of 2019

Public lands wins, big leadership changes, backlash and boycotts, retailers, and more.

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Over the last 12 months, we’ve published more than 630 stories—along with two 100-page magazines—on topics most relevant and important to the outdoor industry. From Alex Honnold’s Oscar win to unrest at Camber Outdoors, we’ve covered the highs and lows that define our 2019 as an industry.

Thank you to everyone who trusted us with scoops and big stories, and sees Outdoor Business Journal as the definitive news source for the outdoor industry.

A number of headlines came to mind when we started reflecting on the year. But to confirm, we looked back at our analytics to discover what stories you read most.

Here were the 10 most popular stories and themes of the year.

Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of Utah’s \”Fine Five\” National Parks.Tracy Zhang / Unsplash

10. Public lands prevailed

With public lands as our playground, the outdoor industry showed lawmakers just how important it is to protect these treasured places. In February, the U.S. House passed the Natural Resources Management Act, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) that died in September 2018. In March, President Donald Trump made it official. In August, Weston’s Leo Tsuo reminded us to not let the government make public lands decisions without us. In October, the House passed three key pieces of public lands legislation.

Heading into an election year, the industry is prepared to keep public lands front and center.

Gert Boyle in black and white | white haired woman with black-rimmed glasses and Columbia jacket stares off into the distance with background of…
Gert Boyle was One Tough Mother.Courtesy

9. We lost a few friends

We wrote obituaries about Burton’s Jake Burton Carpenter, Columbia’s Gert Boyle, Backcountry’s John Bresee, industry friend Sam Coffey, and Pack Rat Outdoor Center’s Scott Crook.

All of these people will be dearly missed. Click their names to read each tribute.

The Voice issues #1 and #2 side by side on a wood table top
The Voice’s first and second editions dropped in January and July at Outdoor Retailer.Kristin Hostetter

8. We launched The Voice

After hearing from so many brands and retailers that our industry needs an independent source of news and content around trade show time, we decided it was time. We carefully chose The Voice as the name of our magazine because we want our content to truly reflect our industry’s many diverse and emerging voices. Unfiltered. Unbiased. Maybe even a little uncomfortable at times. So far, we have two editions under our belt, with another issue coming out in January 2019. We can now call it “critically acclaimed” since FOLIO: honored us with the Best B2B Launch Award this year. Some of our meatiest stories include:

Luis Benitez speaks at a conference before he left his post at the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office for VF Corporation.Courtesy

7. Industry leaders made big career switches

Numerous big names made big career moves this year. Jerry Stritzke resigned from REI after an investigation into a personal relationship. Eric Artz filled his role. Luis Benitez left the Colorado Outdoor Industry Recreation Office for VF Corporation. John Sterling left The Conservation Alliance and was replaced by Brady RobinsonAmy Roberts left Outdoor Industry Association for VF Corporation. Phil Powers announced his transition away from the American Alpine Club. And finally, Tom Adams is leaving the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation for Petzl.

Sandeep Nain at Ascent Outdoors
Sandeep Nain is the new owner of Seattle’s Ascent Outdoors.Truc Allen

6. Iconic stores opened and closed

Most recently, the industry said farewell to Adventure 16, the iconic store that started as a backpack maker in Southern California. More than 20 alumni wrote in with fond memories and lessons they learned during their time working at the store. We also saw the sudden closing and then reopening of Ascent Outdoors, and Denali shut its doors for good.

In all cases, it was made clear that specialty retailers are beloved.

Organ Mountains in New Mexico with full moon
New Mexico hired Axie Navas, a former Outside editor, to lead its outdoor recreation office.Patrick J. Alexander

5. 6 states established outdoor recreation offices

Six states scored state-level offices to promote and attract outdoor recreation business and opportunities: New Mexico, Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Virginia. That makes 17 states total with such offices—13 of which have signed the Outdoor Recreation Confluence Accords. Who will be next?

The Big Gear Show logo
The hardgoods-only Big Gear Show will debut from July 21 to 25, 2020, in Salt Lake City.Courtesy

4. The trade show landscape continued to shift

Four months before the second Outdoor Retailer November show, organizers cancelled it, citing an evolving market and the desire for one consolidated winter show. The cancellation underscored that the trade show model is still in flux. NEMO’s Cam Brensinger in a recent op-ed wrote that we still need OR, but “it seems unlikely to survive long-term without a major reinvention.” Results of our Outdoor Industry Trade Show Survey revealed that most people agree there’s still a need for an all-industry show. And now, Sutton Bacon and Darren Bush have created a new hardgoods-only show called The Big Gear Show, three weeks after OR’s summer event. If this year was any indication, we can expect even more changes in 2020. We’re curious to see how everything shakes out.

Water bottles and trash in a pond
How to join the PIA: Start by sending your logo to Impact Alliance / Getty Images

3. More than 300 brands joined the Plastic Impact Alliance

A collective of 322 brands (as of Dec. 20, 2019) said “no” to single-use plastic in a unified way at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. We started the Plastic Impact Alliance in 2019 to make a dent in the amount of plastic waste our industry produces. In Denver, Outdoor Retailer partnered with the PIA to save 14,080 water bottles through YETI’s refill water station and host more than 70 in-booth water stations. Heading into the next show, here are 10 ways to prepare for a single-use plastic-free event.

Executives line up to sign Camber's CEO Outdoor Equity Pledge
CEOs of outdoor industry companies signed up to pledge their support of efforts to promote DEI.
James Edward Mills

2. Camber Outdoors re-examined its inclusivity mission

At Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in January, Camber Outdoors announced the Outdoor Equity Pledge to improve DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) efforts within their companies. But the outdoor community was outraged over the description of it as the “first-of-its-kind” and for its apparent absence of a critical constituency in its planning, namely people of color. DEI activist Teresa Baker had started her own pledge the summer before. In the weeks and months following, then-ED Deanne Buck apologized and ultimately resigned. The organization paused its equity group efforts during a third-party review. Baker forgave Camber with the goal of moving forward. And Camber named a new leader, Emily Newman, who has extensive executive experience in long-term bridge building and leading solutions that help empower inclusive communities. We’re excited to meet her at Outdoor + Snow Show in January.

Backcountry goat in metal on wall in office
Backcountry has offices in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah.Our \”one year later\” check-in with companies affected by the 2019 Backcountry trademark fiasco was our top news story in November.

1. Backcountry became the face of a trademark debate

How is it possible to trademark the word “backcountry”? The outdoor industry centered on that question after they found out Backcountry had been filing lawsuits and petitions for the last two years against other companies—including a women’s nonprofit and a coffee company—using the word. Our most-read story of the year was an exclusive interview—the first time he spoke out about the backlash—with CEO Jonathan Nielsen. He apologized and responded to the boycott on behalf of the evolving brand and online retailer, but some said it was too little, too late. Someone even threatened him. But since then, Nielsen has visited some of those brands in person and formed partnerships—all with the mission of using the retailer’s gigantic platform to better the industry.