Wool is hot at huge Utah outdoor gear trade show

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm •  Published: January 25, 2013
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The jam-packed expo underscores a thriving corner of the economy. Outdoor-gear sales grew 5 percent annually throughout recent years of recession, analysts said.

The show favors Utah, a place of rugged mountains and canyons and a cottage industry for innovators like DPS, a maker of expensive carbon-fiber skis that recently shifted production from China to safeguard and refine its technology.

Stephen Drake was an English major from New York in 2005 when he launched DPS with $100,000, a trip to China and a design for a featherweight carbon ski.

"Man, we were in over our head," said Drake, 36, who teamed up with an engineer. "It's almost ridiculous what we tried to do with so little money, building carbon skis with new technology." DPS now handcrafts several thousand pairs a year for retail prices up to $1,300 from a factory in Ogden.

That's too much for a ski, said Mark Wariakois, founder of Voile, which sells a hybrid-carbon model for $600 adopted by backcountry professionals in the Rocky Mountains. Voile laminates 3,000 skis and snowboards a year at a factory in a Salt Lake City suburb.

"Everybody is trying to figure out how we make these big skis" for that price, said Wariakois. "We make all of our own tools. That's probably the biggest secret to our success."

Attendance is up 40 percent since 2006, with more than 20,000 flocking to Winter Market, said Nielsen Expo Outdoor Group, the organizer. A twin show in August brings out a larger crowd and is dominated by equipment for water sports.

Nielsen announced Tuesday it was keeping the shows in Salt Lake City through August 2016. The decision suspended a political standoff that had the Outdoor Industry Association threatening to leave over Gov. Gary Herbert's policies. Herbert, a Republican, unveiled a 59-page "vision" for outdoor recreation in the state, which calls for the creation of a state office devoted to the $5.8 billion economic sector.

The Outdoor Retailer show has taken place in Utah since 1996 and pours $40 million annually into the local economy.