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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Emily Sukiemmik tries out a Gibbon Slackline as retailers demonstrate their newest at the Outdoor Retailer demo at Snowbasin Wednesday.

SALT LAKE CITY — It used to be that outdoor gear consisted of a lot of flannel and heavy boots.

Not anymore.

With thousands of outdoor enthusiasts gathering in Salt Lake City for the annual Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trade show to show off the latest and greatest in outdoor equipment, the old conventional thinking on outdoor gear is just that — old.

Now, there's as much high-tech gadgetry and science-lab research on the floor as there is good, old-fashioned fleece.

The drive for innovation never ends and this year's show is, again, hosting a competition — "Project OR" — to see who can come up with the best new ideas for an ever-growing population of outdoor enthusiasts.

"The Project OR challenge is rooted in education and innovation. It allows designers to redefine the status quo in the industry and uses technology and science to influence consumers' lives," Jeff Gunia, global marketing manager for 3M — the presenting sponsor for Project OR — said. "That's what 3M has done for more than 100 years, and that's why we're excited to be part of Project OR."

Several companies have signed on to provide materials and technology for students entering the competition.

The exhibit will be displayed on the main floor of the Salt Palace Convention Center, where thousands of buyers, retailers, designers and manufacturers will check out the ideas and undoubtedly have their future endeavors influenced.

The trade show begins today and runs through Sunday.

Hyperbola, a soft-shell fabric company that is a supporting sponsor for Project OR, sees the competition as a vital part of the industry.

"Project OR helps increase suppliers' visibility to exhibiting brands and adds new life and creativity to the industry," Hyperbola's Jenny Cho said. "We see Project OR as a great opportunity to show how Hyperbola products bring out designers' boldest concepts and add to the outdoor winter apparel story."

The new designs and technology have advanced the industry in ways few imagined a decade ago.

"We created Project OR to demonstrate the crucial role suppliers play in the design process," Kenji Haroutunian, Outdoor Retailer show director, said. "What the contestants experience is analogous to the demands designers face in the outdoor industry, where creativity and the end product hinge on the style and function of the components available to them. OR is grateful to the sponsors and suppliers that help us create this design experience on the show floor."

Of course, apparel is only one segment of the outdoor industry.

Skis, ice-climbing axes, tents, boots, campers, and gear of all sorts will be on display this weekend at the Salt Palace, and the list of exhibitors grows each year as businesses seek to carve out their small, or large, place in each niche.

This year there will be nearly 170 new exhibitors on the floor.

Industry standard-bearers Columbia, Northface, Black Diamond and others will be back, of course, but newcomers such as XTERRA, Bausch & Lomb and Venture Snowboards will be trying to increase their market share by showing off their goods.

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"The outdoor industry is coming off a vastly improved holiday season leaving retailers and vendors feeling more optimistic about the business opportunities that 2010 holds," Haroutunian said.

"This new energy, coupled with a stellar presence of key brands on both sides of the aisle, will fuel a vibrant, innovative marketplace that will create endless opportunities for businesses to launch, differentiate, network and partner like never before."

2010 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market

At Salt Palace Convention Center

Today through Sunday

Show hours:

Today-Saturday: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Sunday: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com