May 30, 2024 - Business

Denver's new Outside Festival looks to become national draw for outdoor industry

Illustration of the Blucifer statue dressed as an outdoorsman.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: George Rose/Getty

Denver is looking to reclaim its mark as the nation's adventure hub as it gathers outdoor industry leaders and recreationists for a four-day festival that started Thursday.

Why it matters: The inaugural event, headlined by the weekend Outside Festival, hopes to become a permanent fixture on the calendar — one akin to a South by Southwest for the outdoors with the assembly of big thinkers, major brands, musicians and filmmakers.

What they're saying: "The overarching vision is that we want to create the national gathering for the outdoor industry and people who love the outdoors," says Conor Hall, the state's outdoor recreation office director.

  • "We want to grow this thing to really take over the city the way South by Southwest does in Austin, [Texas]."

The backstory: The concept for the event took shape as a replacement for the Outdoor Retailer show — the twice annual industry-only convening — that returned to Salt Lake City after a five-year run in Denver.

  • Industry leaders felt the need for a new venue to talk about the issues affecting the outdoors, such as climate change, sustainability and inclusion, as well as develop a public-facing experience to engage consumers.
  • And the state's economic development leaders wanted a signature event to demonstrate that Colorado is the place to start and locate outdoor companies.

State of play: The result is an event that includes a gathering for industry leaders; the Big Gear Show, which is open to the public; and the ticketed Outside Festival, managed by the Boulder-based outdoor media company.

  • The industry luminaries attending the event include Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, snowboarder and Protect Our Winters founder Jeremy Jones, and mountaineer and U.S. Senate candidate Caroline Gleich of Utah.
  • The film series will focus on inclusion in the outdoors and feature activists in talks at the Denver Art Museum.
  • The concerts Saturday and Sunday feature national acts like Thundercat, Andrew Bird and Fleet Foxes, as well as local bands.

The intrigue: In the midst of it all, The North Face — whose parent VF Corp. calls Denver home — is hosting a professional climbing competition and a kids zone designed to get young people interested in the outdoors.

  • An estimated 500 industry leaders and 15,000 outdoor enthusiasts are expected to attend the event.

The bottom line: "This is a showcase of Colorado as the mecca of all things outdoors," Hall tells us. "We want to show the world that Colorado is the best place to come and recreate in a sustainable, responsible fashion as a leader in protecting our public land and water."

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