We’re all gear junkies to a certain degree. When you snowboard, ski, camp, climb, bike, mountaineer, hike, trail run, or really do anything outdoors there’s some piece of gear that makes the activity more accessible. You can’t ski without boots, and you’re not really going to do much snowboarding without a board, right? That’s why each year hundreds of vendors and thousands of attendees descend on Salt Lake City, Utah for the annual Outdoor Retailer Trade Show. Companies come to show off what’s what and make us dream of using their high quality equipment on all the many adventures we’re dreaming about.

I’ve heard about “OR” as people generally refer to it, but this was my first year attending as a member of the working media. Having gone to numerous conferences and large gatherings similar to this in the past I figured I knew what I was in for. I anticipated it would be a somewhat fun, informative meeting where I’d hopefully come away with a better understanding of what gear improvements companies have made in the last 12 months, and what you and I as consumers of this stuff can expect to be “blown away with” in 2011-2012. Most of my expectations were spot on. However, I never really thought so many companies could be packed into one place at one time.

Beyond the stimulation overload of the numerous booths and tons of people once you walk in, it’s interesting to see the many small companies stacked up next to the many super large companies. Most people told me to make specific appointments and to study the floorplan for the booths otherwise they kept telling me “you’ll never get out of this maze”. But honestly, there was just too much to line up and too much to be stoked about so I just dove in head first and came away with some highlights to share on what’s going to be hot for next year.

Airbags. They continue to be a really hot item and multiple companies are making them these days. They’re also really loud in the showroom when deployed, so they bring attention to their presence and make you want to check them out. Maybe not the most necessary item in the Sierra, but for AK, more volatile snowpack’s, and those days when avalanche danger is high to extreme why not put another amazing tool in your toolbox to keep you safe?

Black Diamond has a whole new line of skis coming out for next year and has made a bunch of changes to what they’re currently offering, such as going to full on sidewall construction. The biggest changes are the new Gigawatt ski that will replace the Megawatt as their fattest, and adding the Justice to their efficient line. I’m not so sure about the new graphics, but who cares about that anyway? DPS skis, which still haven’t caught on in Tahoe, look to be about as fun as I can imagine for shredding pow. Their Wailer 112 RP ski also looks like a one ski quiver for the backcountry, but we’ll have to test them out first to make sure they ride as good as they sound and look. K2 also made a bunch of changes to their line, like changing the tail on the Pontoon and giving it a new graphic modeled here by our very own local shred master Kip Garre.  

Keep an eye out for a post coming from Kip in the next few days. This guy was busy at OR running back and forth between his main sponsors Mountains Hardware and K2, but also checking out all the other goodies you and I will want to be using next season.

From the backcountry skier’s perspective La Sportiva’s new binding might be the most exciting development.

Why? Because in the scheme of things Dynafit runs the show. Sure the Marker Duke has changed things and yes I own a pair on my inbounds powder skis I ride at Squaw, and I do tour on them on deep days when I’m only going to do a lap or two. But for any days that come close to being long there’s no doubt Dynafit’s make all the difference in the world, and now they have a little competition. You should also know that Dynfait did a bunch of updating to their line of bindings and have shed even more weight on some of their offerings while still maintaining the quality backcountry skiers and ski mountaineers have come to depend on.

Most manufacturers of backcountry ski boots have also made improvements trying to continue the trend in making the lightest, yet stiffest boot imaginable. While I’m still a Garmont guy, there are a lot of offerings coming out for next year that are trying to make this once oxymoronic union between stiffness and uphill performance standard in the industry.

Food. Wow. Here’s where I was most impressed checking in on all the new gimmicks and improvements people are trying to make for us to have energy and be nourished while skiing and riding. Power To Go has fortified a small bag of trail mix with the same energy boosters found in 5 hour energy drink. I think this could be “the one”, but some real in the field testing is needed. Nuun continues to offer tasty electrolyte drink tablets that are a must on big days, and both Gu and Clif have added tasty new flavors to their growing lines of energy gel’s. While I’m a fan of Gu’s Roctane Line, I also like Clif’s new Mocha+caffeine offering. We’ll see who wins during the next test run on the Eastside. Finally, my award for good ingredients and taste go to Olympic Granola Bars. Multiple yummy flavors, quality ingredients, and family owned and operated make this my new go to bar for the rest of the year. Check’em out, you’ll be stoked.

OR isn’t just about testing and talking. It’s also about networking and partying…and checking out crazy new gloves like this offering from Arc’teryx that’ll set you back a cool $275 bucks next season!

But seriously, there were great shows to catch like Toubab Crew with the Infamous Stringdusters, reggae legend Don Carlos, and some really fun parties to attend like the one that celebrated Greg Hill and his unreal goal achieved to climb and ski over 2 million vertical feet in one calendar year. A good time was had in Salt Lake City, and even though my trip was brief, coming back home to sunny Tahoe I wondered if I had more fun geeking out on all the gear and fun parties I got to go to, or the amazing powder that was skied on nearby Mt. Superior. I think a trip report is in order about the latter so we can all remember why this gear is so necessary in the first place.

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