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Maculated Returns to Salt Lake's OR Show

Submitted by maculated on 2005-02-13

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Maculated Returns to Salt Lake's OR Show

  • If all you care about is the gear, just click here

It’s 11:30 on Friday morning. I’ve skipped work to install the old hard drive into my new computer that crashed and burned a week before. There I am, on the floor on my hands and knees peering into the dark cavern of my computer case with a screwdriver in my mouth, when my cell phone begins to tinkle the chords of “Masterpiece Theatre” at me. (No snickering, I have the choice of that, or the “Happy Birthday” song. My phone is lame, but it gets reception in Yosemite Valley. Does yours? I thought not.)

“Kristin? This is Jay Young.”

That’s right, the infamous j_ung is on the phone with me. He is calling to entreat me to get my hiney to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer (OR) Winter Market gear show. Images of smiling reps, old friends, and, of course, copious bottles of La Sportiva beer begin doing jigs of happiness in my head.

Practical, maculated, be practical.
“Kind of last minute, doncha think?”

He agrees. Angry little demons of memories of the endless, frustrating line of cars that await me at a standstill on my way to L.A. to fly out start to push away the thoughts of beer and friends. Larger beasts arrive and roost firmly on my brain, poking the nerves that remind me I have obligations to work, to school, to my students.

I look over to my blue brain bucket. The La Sportiva beer label is peeling and scratched.

I need a new one.

Hours later (after searching every online ticket agent) it’s settled. I even get to fly out of my little town, saving me the hassle of getting down to Los Angeles International in a few hours. When I went in to teach my class later that day, my students nearly broke down into sobbing fits when I told them that class would be cancelled on Monday. All that’s left to deal with is the reading for my own classes . . . but I can do that on the plane, right?


It’s five o’clock in the morning, the sun is still sleeping behind the mountains to the east. When I arrive to check in, I’m told I’ve missed the last boarding call. How I can arrive 45 minutes early and not make my flight in this tiny airport is beyond me. I stand there, not sure what to do. One of the security guards tells me they can probably get me on, but not with my skis (of course I brought them, I need to sample some Utah powder!). Of course, all of my stuff is packed into my ski case to save space, so I quickly get to unzipping the ski suitcase and stuffing all the non-ski contents into my duffle bag. I figure I can call a friend to pick up the planks when I touch down in Phoenix in a few hours. Of course, now they decide that I can bring the skis, so I zip them back up and start running for the plane.

As I sit back in my chair, I note that my luck holds up – I never get seatmates on planes for some reason. In fact, on all four planes throughout the course of the weekend, I’ve got the span to myself. Very nice for napping, though I missed out on discussing this dismality of my singleness with well-meaning Mormons (which is what happened last time). It is a wonderful sight to see my beloved San Luis Obispo’s lights and volcanic plugs from the air as the dopey sun crests the horizon. I’ve always wanted to see it, and now I’m given the chance as we arc over the ocean and south toward a drizzling Phoenix.

After a layover just long enough to down a chai latte and a delectable cranberry scone, I’m back in a plane looking out the window, in and out of consciousness. (I don’t get much sleep during the week, and getting up early is wearing on me.) After about an hour of waking fitfully and looking up, I notice that we are one of many, many planes in a long lineup.

dee plane, dee plane!
Pilot of flight 6732: “Sorry folks, this always happens when it rains a millionth of an inch in Phoenix.”

After about thirty minutes more, we’re finally airborne in a fairly bumpy sky. The flight’s nearly over when I wake up again and look outside to behold the Wasatch Mountains bathed and shrouded in clouds, from the port window. The flight is over, I’m nearly there.

The Wasatch Range
Gee, sure am glad I brought my skis.

When I get there, Climbs4Fun and her father are there to pick me up. She’s driven up from Las Vegas to join me on our foray into the Salt Palace and all things climbing. Both of us are a little bleary-eyed from our early morning reveries, but there’s work to be done, and she has to leave by Sunday afternoon (I, on the other hand, have a Tuesday flight out). We agree that coffees are in order – and this is a tall order for me, as coffee makes my already frenetic personality a little bit more . . . manic. It’s not a pretty sight.

As you enter the Salt Palace, you step into this round foyer with some very interesting round chimes that knock in rhythms, creating a sort of calming space – separating you from the busy city and the busier convention center. You want to stop and look up, and just breathe.

This little feature really fits in with the spirit of the show, which encourages a natural calm. Prana sponsors some yoga classes throughout the day, and I was fortunate enough that my ride to the show on Sunday wanted to get there early for a little morning stretching and energizing. I was expecting a large ballroom with mats and full light, but the beads at the door, dimmed lights, tinkly music and soft pillows were more authentic than any other class I've attended.

There was a strong sense of eco-responsibility from the vendors at the show: this ranging from Patagonia’s stewardship messages to talks given discussing environmental sustainability in the outdoor industry. A new feature also debuted this show: Green Steps. Around various booths there were tips and tricks to maintaining an environmentally friendly business practice.

Industry and sustainability!
Big Foot! I didn’t know Utah had sasquatches!

The coolest feature upon entry into the showgrounds is the magazine rack. Teeming with rags from Rock and Ice to [u[Hooked, Shape to National Geographic, if you want it, it's probably there.

Want an industry Mag?
Climbs4Fun gets lost in the endless bins of magazines.

As we wander in a daze amidst the maze of booths, signs, and people, we find the holy grail: coffee. Free coffee. Good coffee. Did I mention free coffee?

Royal Robbins fuels the show
Thank God for Royal Robbins: climbing great, supplier of a decent cup of joe.

Once we’re fueled, we get to exploring the booths and layout – and luckily it is much the same as last summer. This is fortuitous because the acreage of this convention center is unfathomable. I can’t imagine what it must look like empty – so plain, so cavernous. Each booth has a flavor, a theme, something enticing. Some booths are simple: black cloth dividers; some booths are complex: curving wood architecture, flowers, tables, and yes, even ant farms.

The Ants aren't doing so great
User JL looks confounded about the lack of appetite his Prana display ants are exhibiting. Maybe all the foot traffic is nauseating them. I know it does me.

Since we’ve gotten there late, it’s already beer thirty! The coffee's effect is waning, so I score myself a wonderful Mammut beer glass full of liquid sustenance. Ah yes, beer – the official consumptable of the OR show. Maybe it’s the natural affinity hard playing folk have for the stuff, maybe it’s the sense of rebellion you have when you imbibe in conservative Utah, or maybe, just maybe, it’s a way to alleviate the pressures of the show. A friend remarked to me about his lack of zeal about parading himself around with a permanent smile, and I told him he just had to make it as fun as he could. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m drinking a lot.” You can do that in Utah: the beer is only half strength.

The obligatory shot of me drinking
Maculated: intrepid journalist. Camera slung over shoulder; notebook in one hand, beer in the other. Ahh yes.

The gear show is all about business. You make connections, you reaffirm connections, you do what you can for the other guy. We’re all like louse-ridden monkeys. Scratch my back! Eat my lice! I promise I’ll do the same for you! I love the taste of lice!

Yet, whenever I mention I’ve been to the show, friends always express their desire to go, even when they have no business to conduct. It can’t be the beer – we’ve got better and stronger in California - and there’s no admission price to the bars most days. So what is it? I contend it’s the people.

Those that attend the OR are there for so many reasons aside from trying to lure buyers or vendors. Some of the folks you’ll find are sponsored climbers: Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden signing posters, Chris Sharma and Lauren Lee signing gym holds, Hans Flourine signing the latest incarnation of Speed Climbing.

Girls can't do pull ups.
Lisa Rands hits pull-up number 28 and takes a rest. Yup, girls cannot do pull-ups.

You’ll find people like Ingrid Gordon, working to promote Gear for Good; Kelly Cordes, checking out new packs for his latest adventure; and Marty Karabin, toting images of the gear museum he harbors, out to collect the latest and greatest.

Marty of the Copious Gear
What’s that on the table? Climber hard-core porn. Photos of every cam, pin, hanger, nut, and doo-dad you’ve ever heard of or dreamed of.

With the kind of people attracted to the gear industry, it’s not surprising that OR doesn’t take itself too seriously. While maintaining a business-like atmosphere, many vendors attempt humor to draw in the crowds.

OR Show Scar Wars
That’s right; it’s a contest to see who has the worse scar. Take my word for it: don’t look at the x-rated ones if you don’t like furry posteriors.

There’s just so much going on, it drains you. It feels like you’ve slagged up a peak with an eighty pound pack on by the end of the day, you walk around so much – your face is frozen in a smile, your eyes as wide as dinner plates. When the announcer tells us over the loudspeaker that the show is over, everyone is ready to plop into their easy chairs, couches, or stools and take a breather.

maculated is wasted
Please, God, make it stop.

But it’s not over yet! It’s time to attend the fabulous industry parties! Each night, the OR has some kind of gala planned, be it a band, a show, free food, what have you. This is where the show gets its life. This is when you get to stop and talk to people you know, down another beer, and prep for the after-parties you’ve been invited to. Some people really get down, others line the edges like awkward junior high school boys at a dance. Either way, it's always a spectacle.

Yes, that’s right, the Reverend Horton Heat plays at the Hooked party on Sunday. He’s got a wiggle-stick baby, and you better like it a lot. I know I do.

By far, the biggest improvement on the after-party from the summer was the addition of film showings at Brewvies, my favorite movie theater ever. When I saw the name of the venue on the program, I wondered what kind of place this would be – experience had led me to believe that climbing films were ususally shown in a gear shop or casual restaurant. This wasn't any shop I’d heard of.

I heart Brewvies!
“Oh my gosh! It’s a movie-pub! Score!”

What’s a movie pub, you ask? Beer and movies? Sounds cool, huh? But it can’t possibly exist. At least not in Utah, of all places, right?


That’s right, ladies and gentleman, get a pitcher, catch a flick. This dude looks about as happy about this as I was.

So there we were, sitting inside this Brew-Movie joint, watching amazing films like “Parallelojams” (soon to be released as part of Return2Sender, a very promising video if the segment I saw had anything to say about it) and an abbreviated Banff Film Fest selection.

Yes, Utah is a beautiful, wonderful place. The biggest contrast to the summer show is the fact that when I got to Salt Lake last August, I felt like my skin was going to boil off my body in the arid summer heat. When I called Peter (one of the brothers Gram who serve as official Salt Lake social directors when I am in town) he told me that the weather was “warm.” Considering that I’d been plodding around San Luis Obispo in tank tops, skirts, and flip flops: this sounded great. Au contraire – it got down to thirty below freezing (farenheit) while I was there – I felt like my nose and cheeks were going to crack off on my day off to ski. So mind you – it may be a desert, but Salt Lake’s got one heck of a temperature shift season-to-season, at least to a coastal California lightweight.

Between the massive collection of stickers I brought back to my climbing co-op gym, the relaxing nights in the hot tub after the show, and the vendors’ beer – I’d say OR’s Winter Market Show was a serious success.

Oh, but the gear! The gear! You want to know about the gear! Fine! I’ll tell you!

  • MetoliusSafe Climbing

    [list]Climbing is a dangerous sport if you’re not vigilant at all times. Metolius knows that to err is human, and thus they attempt to intercede. Already famous for their range finder and new Safe-Tech harnesses, they have a few more improvements that are worth taking note of.

    New kid on the block, Metolius unleashes its “Waldo” harness – ideal for long hanging belays and aid routes. They’ve improved upon the standard bigwall harness in a number of good ways – my favorite being the double belay loops in contrasting colors, with gear loops and “rope locator” (the little dealio below your bottom tie-in point) rated for falls. It looks a little lightweight compared to the industry standard Yates harnesses, but time will tell – it definitely looks like a good harness for a trad climber interested in something a little cushier.

    Along the big, fat, and safe theme, we have the “Fat Bastard” crash pad. Same size as the standard Metolius crash pad, but stuffed full of Krispy Cremes and pork rinds to a 4” thickness.

    Fat Pads get the thumbs up!
    Highballing? Thumbs up!

  • YatesThe Skinny
    [list]John’s got a new kid on the block. You know Dyneema by Mammut? The impossibly thin, impossibly strong runners? What’s the problem with them of late? They snag, right? Well – if you pick up Yates’ version, the weave is engineered to head this off before you can say “skinny little US made runner.” This guy features 10 bar tacks and is rated to 22 kn. Be sure to check out its incarnation as a “speed draw,” with one end sewn tight to a biner in order to extend that much faster.

    John Yates' Dyneema
    Yates, “My sling – it is the best. See it?”

  • PetzlShine your light on

    [list]Remember me telling you about the Myo XP? Let’s make it into a Tikka. Get excited! This headlamp has everything you’ll ever want/need aside from serious mountaineering. LEDs with brightness controls, a booster light to look for lost hangers on runout Tuolumne slab, and now in a lightweight, battery-pack free package. Check it out, you won’t be sorry.

    MammutLight? You bet your ass

    I was sorely disappointed that I didn’t get to talk to Mammut last show, so I made a point to go in and check out what the story was with their weird little offerings from last show.

    Mammut goes fast and light
    Them sure are some perty shoes.

    Well, turns out the shoes with the cutouts are called “Taboo.” As surmised, their major goal is removing the curse of the summer hotfoot. If don’t know what I’m talking about, forget it. But if you do – oh, the sweet sweet ventilation. And, you know, if you do a lot of climbing, the cut outs in the Taboo will give you an awesome foot tan – better than what Chacos can do by far.

    The Dyneema harness is known as the “Manna.” Designed for high-end sport climbing, if you’re about to climb naked to strip the weight, this is the harness for you. A neat feature, aside from the cushy back padding and light weight, is the reinforced wear protector for your tie-in point. If you climb for any decent amount of time, that tie-in point’s going to be fuzzy and scary looking – but not with the Manna. Truly divine.

    Mammut is also marketing an interesting pig crossover pack, the “Pillar.” Not durable enough for hauling on the big walls – if you find yourself having to haul your pack on occasion on long multi-pitch routes, this cylindrical shape and low profile pack is your ticket to stress free ascents. This is campy, but I really liked the built-in helmet holder on the top of the pack. Hey, it’s all about the details.

    For those of you interested in winter snow travel, Mammut’s beacons come with a nifty CD that allows for rescue scenarios – great for brushing up on your avy training, or for realistically encouraging education for those who foray into the backcountry without taking classes.

  • EvolvThe name says it all

    [list]If you didn’t like Evolv’s offerings when you first saw them, look again. As the name suggests, this company is evolving – ready and willing to respond to any and all feedback. If you’re a particular shoe connoisseur, you’d do well to visit Evolv. Custom fitting, custom rubber, split sizes, and willing feedback make Evolv the shoe company to watch. Their rand is softer, their fit is better, bar none – Evolv wants you to know that they can give you the best fitting shoe. They are the Burger King of show companies: have it your way.

  • TrangoLast, but not least

    [list]Last summer, all eyes were on the Link Cam and the C4. What would they look like? Would they really improve on the design that much? Would it be worth sinking the money into them if you already had a functional rack? As far as the C4 is concerned, you have probably had the opportunity to answer that question for yourself, while much mystery surrounds the Link Cam, and will continue to until they are released to the slathering masses.

    Well, stop worrying about it. Although I have always been a die-hard and vocal Black Diamond Camalot fan, I am giving up my allegiance. From this day hence, I shall be a devotee at the house of Max Cam. I had the great benefit of sitting down with the designer of the cam, “I’m Max. This is the Max Cam,” and I can confidently say that this cam has a place on your rack. In fact, this cam should replace your active SLCD rack.

    Best in show: Max Cams
    Kind of like cams the Jetsons would use, huh?

    Take everything you like about the Black Diamond C4 redesign, and then improve it. This cam boasts the same ergonomic loop, same light weight, same colors and sizes. What makes it far and away the best cam on the market are where it picks up where BD left off: by making the lobes asymmetrical, the Max cam’s pivoting center actually changes depending on the degree of contraction. What this means is that you get a 2:1 ratio in sizing. Add the extendable sling, and even cutouts on the lobes indicating size, and we have a winner.

    This cam is, far and away, the biggest improvement on climbing technology that I’ve seen at either show. Start talking about it.

    Last show I made the mistake of not looking into the Cinch, which many of you had asked me about afterward - so this time I had a good look at it. It is both lighter and more ergonomic than its competitor, the Petzl Gri-Gri. One benefit to the Cinch that I saw right away was the hole in the middle. I've customized my Gri-Gri to have a swaged leash to clip in to things for aid routes, and this hole in the Cinch looks like you could sling some cord through it to perform the same thing. They are also currently looking into creating a marketable titanium version - created from a single block of the stuff. Will that be something climbers are willing to cough up serious dough on? I have my hunch that it won't be, but you all will be the proof.

    Trango’s also offering the very versatile nut tool-knife combination, called the "Shark". It’s a nut tool! It’s a knife! Cut down on all that stuff hanging on the back of your harness: get one of these and never leave the ground without it.

    Trango's nifty nut tool
    Sharp looking tool you’ve got there!

I would like to take this chance to thank everyone I spoke to at the OR show. It does my little hippy heart good to know that the industry is leaning toward more sustainable and eco-friendly options in production.

One thing I did note during my interviews with companies - the outsourced shoes (read this as "constructed overseas") are selling well. This is disappointing as I had hoped the market would say "No," to cheap rip offs created in less than ideal conditions, but in fact you have said "Yes." People, spend the extra forty bucks for shoes that last and have been constructed in a way you can be proud of. If you make the choice, and tell your friends, we're on to a more progressive consumerism that we can all move forward with. The mass drives the market.

Over and out.

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