From Luis Benitez, Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office



I want to take a moment to share my thoughts around this dynamic time we are facing both as a country and as an industry. As anyone who follows the outdoor recreation industry knows, we are in the midst of potentially paradigm shifting developments.

With everything from climate extremes (Jackson Hole being shut down indefinitely from snow and rain bringing down main power lines as I write this), to access questions on public lands with the new administration in DC, this is truly a time of uncertainty the outdoor industry hasn’t experienced in my lifetime.

On top of these issues, iconic brands are boycotting the industry’s prime trade show in Utah due to the state’s stance on public lands, and the Outdoor Retailer show is discussing leaving Utah all together. These issues, while disconcerting, I feel represent a different sort of challenge.

From the moment that Outdoor Retailer announced they would be looking to other states to potentially move the trade show, my phone has been ringing off the hook. People from all corners of Colorado are asking, “Is Colorado going try and recruit the show?”

I have watched social media explode with position articles and statements akin to the starting of a Twitter war. Comments argue that “Colorado is better because of xyz” or “Utah is better because of abc.” But I believe that our dialogue shouldn’t be about Utah vs. not Utah. Instead we should focus on what we need to do for our industry moving into a rather uncertain future.

We need to align what’s best for our $646B dollar industry nationally  and what’s best for preserving that passion and sense of soul that binds us together.

My ask of all of us is in the midst of all of this discussion would be to remember what anchors us, and I want to share a recent story that helped me understand that.

A few months ago, my counterpart from Utah, Tom Adams, and I were in the middle of an industry conference here in Colorado, when we started texting, plotting really, how we could get outside and enjoy some fresh air to keep us energized and inspired.

As the winter afternoon light faded fast, we knew we had to move quickly, agreeing that we would meet in Boulder and if you’re a rock climber, do what countless climbers in the front range often do after work, climb one of the Flatirons.

As we laced up our shoes and started moving up the cliff, given our day jobs our conversation naturally drifted to politics. It was the night of the last presidential debate, and Tom from a red state and me from a blue state, listened in on his phone to the dialogue.

We discussed how either outcome would affect our industry and our communities’ future, but given the task at hand, we focused on moving uphill together, staying safe as darkness fell, while both lost deep in thought.

Climbers often call this focus in the midst of danger the “sisterhood or brotherhood of the rope.” This connection that we all share to each other in the outdoors, when things get tough, or interesting, there is security in knowing that we all are in it together.

I have heard hunters, bikers, boaters, skiers, etc. describe the same feeling of kinship with their sport and their community.

As we crested the summit ridge by headlamp, Tom pulled out some chocolate he had carried up which we ate while we had a good chuckle about just how jazzed we felt to be out after dark, and then quickly raced down the hill back to our cars and back to the conference.

This spirit of the brotherhood and sisterhood of the rope is the thing that I sense is in jeopardy, easily lost amidst the rhetoric of industry politics and posturing.

With everyone potentially taking an entrenched position it could prevent us from becoming and sharing the best of who we are, and who we hope to be. We are at a critical moment in the midst of this crisis.

Written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters. One represents danger, the other opportunity. The danger here is that next year, everything will go back to business as usual, and this dialogue will be forgotten memory.

I have a feeling that our industry will not look or be the same when most of these conversations and processes are done. Some will think the decisions made weren’t the right ones, others will say it had to be done.

I have no doubt addressing this paradigm shift will be the hardest thing that our industry will have to do in our lifetimes. Yet we can and must focus on what’s best for the industry and our collective future – for the future of the brotherhood and the sisterhood, our collective bond, it’s the right thing to do.

Yours in Service,

Luis Benitez

Director, Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office