2019 Outdoor Industry Conferences and Summits

NCOAE Headquarters

July 23, 2019

There’s a paradox in this outdoor education industry of ours, and that seeming contradiction is this: Sometimes you have to go indoors in order to continue to enjoy the outdoors. Think back to the last time you opened your eyes under a canopy of trees, or glided across a lake on a kayak, or looked up and visually plotted out a course for a complex climb.

For the outdoors enthusiast — and especially for those of us who work in the outdoor industry — this is our life. We’re outside, showing others how to appreciate themselves and the backcountry. But our line of work is often a complex blend of gregarious solitude. We spend our days giving our students the best of who we are.

While we’re concentrating on the experience for the benefit of the novice as well as the experienced adventurers under our charge, we’re missing out on valuable time set aside to connect with our peers on a deeper level — outside of work.

(Image courtesy Association for Experiential Education)

The outdoor season ends, and many of us return home or follow the seasons to continue this work. In many instances, we pass up the opportunity to learn what’s new in the industry.

The solution? Look for outdoor industry conferences, trade shows, and summits you can attend. Traditionally, conferences are those large, more formal events that feature industry speakers, time in lecture halls and breakout rooms, and good dose of PowerPoint presentations. At the larger such gatherings, there’s usually a convention exhibit hall featuring industry vendors.

Summits, especially in the outdoor industry, on the other hand have a looser feel, with industry pioneers and luminaries speaking and offering demos, opportunities to meet with fellow outdoor pros during hands-on adventure-based activities, and the chance to participate in both formally led and informally organized discussions and salons. Summits often incorporate more interplay, with the opportunity to socialize with industry pros, designers and leaders taking precedence over formal education.

Below, we’ve listed some upcoming outdoor industry gatherings for those times when you’ve stepped off the trail and find yourself with some time to delve into what makes our industry tick. These outdoor industry summits, conferences, and trade shows are an excellent opportunity to learn, have fun, and stay connected to the outdoor industry ecosystem.

Adventure Travel World Summit (Sept. 16-19, 2019 — Gothenburg, Sweden):

More than half of the lure of this summit is visiting the home of the world’s happiest people. Hard to pass up, right? This is a convening of adventure travel and ecotourism business owners, industry vendors, writers, guides, outfitters and others, where inspiration and new ideas seem to be at the core of the gathering. While on their website, look at where they have held past summits. This event’s organizers go to great lengths to ensure attendees have fun, share ideas, and consider the future impacts of adventure travel and ecotourism.

LGBTQ Outdoor Summit (Sept. 26-29, 2019 — Estes Park, Colo.):

The mission of this annual gathering, now in its second year, is to build community, cultivate connections, and inspire outdoor leaders to create accessible and affirming ways for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community to get outside. Specifically, the objectives of the 2019 gatherings in Estes Park are to provide an affirming space to represent the LGBTQ community’s unique barriers, needs, and wants as they pertain to getting outside, and to foster engagement in more nuanced dialogue that recognizes the vast diversity of experiences and identities within the LGBTQ community. The summit offers leaders, organizations, and other outdoor industry folks the opportunity to help create a common dialogue with the LGBTQ community and finding solutions to a variety of issues.

2019 Bikepacking Summit (Oct. 4-6, 2019 — Ellijay, Ga.):

If bikepacking is a new term in your outdoor vernacular, think, off-road bike touring. Bikepacking has become the fastest-growing element within the biking community as a whole — giving the sector a long overdue, shot in the arm of pure creativity. If you love backpacking and biking, you should load up your bike and get to Georgia for the 2019 Bikepacking Summit in early-October.

American Canoe Association Conference (Oct. 4-6, 2019 — Richmond, Va.):

A highlight of this conference is the opportunity to paddle the James River through Richmond. The American Canoe Association (ACA) conference is designed to meet the needs of currently certified ACA instructors and those seek certification. Having worked with many ACA instructors over the years, we know the quality and excellent instruction you will receive by attending this event, which is a must if you are looking to step up your paddling game professionally or personally.

Wilderness Risk Management Conference (Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 2019 — Albuquerque, N.M.):

The Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) provides some of the best educational experiences available to those seeking to improve their skills at mitigating the risks inherent in exploring, working, teaching, and recreating in the outdoors. It’s a chance to learn — and help develop risk management standards for the outdoor education and adventure recreation industries.

Utah Outdoor Recreation Summit (Oct. 22-24, 2019 — St. George, Utah):

In early 2017, after the Outdoor Retailer (OR) Show’s owner, Emerald Expositions, announced in a news release that it would not include Utah in its request for proposals from cities hoping to host the biannual OR Show, it appeared outdoor recreation — at least from an industry perspective — and Utah no longer had anything to do with one another. If you’re unfamiliar with the issues that lead to the OR Show moving from Salt Lake City to Denver the following year, read our post, Bears Ears Controversy Threatens Outdoor Retailer Show in Utah. Now, just a couple of years later, the Outdoor Industry Association — which pushed for Emerald to relocate the show — is sponsoring a three-day industry gathering in Utah that seeks to bring together local outdoor recreation stakeholders, industry figures, and land managers to discuss the state of the industry in the state of Utah. Breakout sessions across five educational tracks, keynote addresses, a service project, and the doling out of awards, are all on the agenda for this event taking place in late-October in St. George.

Outdoor Empowered Network National Summit (Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2019 —  Jamestown, Colo.):

The Outdoors Empowered Network (OEN) provides outdoor leadership training and outdoor equipment libraries to develop educators who use nature as a tool for youth development. Most participants are program staff of OEN member programs, as well as those considering joining the network. But for those who are involved in training youth service providers in outdoor leadership skills — as well as providing them with outdoor gear — this national summit in Ohio is a must.

AEE-AORE International Conference (Nov. 13-15, 2019 — Spokane, Wash.):

This conference is a must for anyone interested in trends in outdoor and adventure-based experiential education. Every attendee we have ever spoken to says they walked away from the AEE conference (and the AORE conference) with a loaded pack of new and useful information and ways to deliver experientially-based instruction. This year, the two organizations — Association for Experiential Education (AEE) and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) — are coming together for one conference aimed at broadening collaboration within the fields of experiential education and outdoor recreation, creating higher-quality educational opportunities, building professional skills and knowledge, strengthening professionalism within their memberships, broadening networking opportunities, leveraging both communities in advocacy and public policy efforts, and raising awareness of the value and impact of experiential education and outdoor education. If you only attend one conference in 2019, make it the AEE-AORE International Conference in Spokane.

Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Bootcamp (Sept. 19-20, 2019 — New York City; Dec. 5, 2019, Costa Mesa, Calif.):

These sustainability boot camps target small- to mid-sized brands that have no staff — or expertise — in sustainability. Located on opposite sides of the country, these two bootcamps are intensive sessions combining speakers, educational content, hands-on activities, and take-home resources. The objective is for attendees to support sustainability within their brand, establish a sustainability program, and arrive home with a customized action plan.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market (Nov. 5-7, 2019 — Denver, Colo.):

By moving this popular show to November, it becomes the launch event for the upcoming retail season, giving retailers the entire range of products available and enabling them to soak up information about trends and industry initiatives in order to make informed buying decisions. Winter Market emphasizes “how” retailers buy, rather than “when” retailers buy. The deadlines remain the same, but the retailers have more information. They can analyze their sell through so that they can maximize their open-to-buy dollars and minimize order changes. Brands benefit from early retailer feedback to guide forecasting and production. If you buy or sell outdoor gear, apparel, or accessories, this is the show to attend.

International ACCT Conference & Expo (Feb. 6-9, 2020 — Raleigh, N.C.):

This 30th annual Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) conference and expo runs for four days and includes valuable information for builders, owners, operators, practitioners, facilitators and all industry professionals who are serious about the evolution of the challenge course / aerial adventure park industry. If your outdoor education program includes a ropes course, this conference provides the latest in new trends and advanced training.

Outdoor Industry Association Capitol Summit (April 2020 — Washington, D.C.):

Outdoor industry executives from across the country arrive at the nation’s capital once per year to educate elected officials on key issues impacting their businesses. By participating in this 2020 event, you stand with your industry peers in making administration officials and members of Congress aware of the outdoor industry’s most pressing issues and needs. New participants receive a quick lesson on lobbying, as well as education on the Outdoor Industry Association’s policy agenda and legislative priorities. Those attending will walk away with knowledge in scheduling and conducting congressional meetings on the Hill as well as tools and skills to take home and make an impact in your state.

Wilderness Education Association (October 2020 — Three Lakes, Wis.): Last year, the Wilderness Education Association (WEA) co-hosted its annual conference with the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) at Snowbird in Utah, and is not hosting a conference this year. However, the organization is focusing on its 2020 event, which will occur sometime in October at Three Lakes, Wis. Stay tuned for more information.

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