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With the nation stuck inside for what seemed like months on end during the COVID-19 pandemic, many turned to the outdoors as respite from their home office computer screen.

More people flocking to trails or taking up new sports was a boon for the outdoor industry in Boulder County.

“The category is obviously en fuego,” Outside Inc. CEO Robin Thurston said Tuesday during an industry CEO roundtable event hosted by BizWest and sponsored by Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP, Plante Moran and Bank of Colorado.

More people taking up outdoor recreation, of course, leads to more traffic at trailheads, an issue the industry is monitoring closely.

“We’re seeing visitation rates of 200% or more of growth on public lands,” The Access Fund executive director Chris Winter said.

And while more participation would seem to be a positive thing for the outdoor industry, that’s not always the case both for people and the planet.

“We’ve seen avalanche fatalities grow” as more people who are less experienced push into the backcountry, Back Country Access general manager Graig Hatton said.

With sports like skiing and snowboarding “there’s an element of risk and people want to be educated,” Hatton said. That education can become a new source of revenue for retailers in the industry.

It’s unclear whether outdoor recreation will remain as popular when the pandemic fully subsides, Winter said. But if it does, the industry has to step up and be better stewards of the land.

Most newbies are using the most common trailheads, exacerbating issues like erosion and littering, Outside Analytics Inc. Ben Tarr said. Education, technology, and reservations systems can help distribute usership over the entire trails system, much of which goes mostly unused.

“An evolving demographic is coming through the store,” with more and more beginners, Neptune Mountaineering marketing manager Shelley Dunbar said.

This has resulted in high-end manufacturers pivoting to “develop products for all skill levels,” she said.

In fact major sporting goods retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods are devoting more and more floor space to outdoor gear, Scarpa North American’s Kim Miller said.

While major retailers may have more modestly priced gear than boutiques that cater to experts, getting into outdoor sports is almost never cheap.

In fact, factors such as tariffs and COVID-19-related supply chain disruptions are making gear more expensive.

“I worry that we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg of the price increases we will see in the second half of this year,” The Allen Co. marketing director Brian Cavanaugh said.

The question has been raised within the industry of how much effort should be put into getting products on brick and mortar store shelves and how much should be devoted to building e-commerce channels, said Jon Fox, president of Eco Vessel.

Cusa Tea COE Jim Lamancusa agreed, saying, “The customer is shopping in a very different way now.”

Companies need to stay ahead of consumer behavior trends, he said.

“Everyday the landscape changes” and the organization must be flexible, Boulder race director Cliff Bosley said.

In Bolder Boulder’s case, the main race has evolved into a series of socially distanced individual raves across the region.

Sponsor attendees at the BizWest Outdoor Industry CEO Roundtable included: Berg Hill partner Sally Berg and marketing director Ashley Cawthorn; Jeremy Wilson, Sean Nohavec, Brad McQueen and Jim Cowgill of Plante Moran; and Bank of Colorado branch president Aaron Spear.

© 2021 BizWest Media LLC