Best of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2017

Twice a year tens of thousands of outdoor industry professionals descend on Salt Lake City for the industry’s largest trade show – Outdoor Retailer. January 10-12, 2017 brought thousands of outdoor industry professionals together to showcase snow sports, apparel, accessories and gear for the outdoor lover.

If you’re looking for the Best of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2017 look no further. These top fifteen gear picks are really cool.

Back country split board at outdoor retailer Demo Day

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National Park to Park Highway Victory Lap – Yellowstone National Park

I know I said Glacier National Park was our last stop on our National Park to Park Highway tour, but the drive from Glacier down to Utah would’ve been incomplete without a victory lap in the Nation’s first National Park – Yellowstone.

Although Yellowstone gets the credit as being the first National Park, Yosemite Valley was actually the first area set aside by the federal government for the protection of the land for the enjoyment of the people.

On our previous visit to Yellowstone we saw Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Prismatic Geyser Basin but we never got to one of my favorite spots – The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It felt poetic to end our National Park to Park Highway trip in the first official National Park.

On our National Park to Park Highway journey we traveled over 7,000 miles in just over six weeks. We traversed mountains, deserts, plains, boring interstates, big cities, remote forests and just about every habitat in between. We endured scorching heat, freezing cold, rain, and wind, but luckily most of our days were sunny. We spent over 200 hours in our truck, the rest of the time in the outdoors (and a few rented rooms).

After seeing the deepest canyon in the world, the deepest lake and tallest sand dune in North America, rare animals, endangered glaciers and more beautiful vistas that we could count, you’d think we’d be hiking to Yellowstone Falls with our fists in the air, We Are the Champions playing on the soundtrack. In actuality, we limped along in our grubbiest clothes, grateful to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Me and Baby L hiking in our pajamas – the only cleanish clothes we had left.

Planning a grand adventure is often more fun than executing it. Don’t get me wrong. I’d travel the National Park to Park Highway again in a heartbeat, but six weeks living on the road with three small children doesn’t count as a vacation in my book. An experience, yes. Vacation, not so much.

“When we get back I’m gonna need some alone time and then we should go on a date,” Mountain Dad said on one of the many long drives between beautiful places. I completely agreed. Being nonstop with our kids meant we were always on. Always within earshot of their tantrums, on guard to keep them safe, preparing food, beds, clothes, and taking them on bathroom runs. I love those little monkeys, but I felt ready for a break.

That’s what makes this trip so wonderful. Now that I’m home I can look back at the photos and remember with awe that we DID that. We accomplished a great family goal – to travel the National Park to Park Highway. My kids got to see the glaciers in Glacier National Park before they all disappeared. Big E had experiences he vowed to tell his grand kids about. Little G learned to ride a bike at the Grand Canyon. Baby L crawled over terrain meant for mountain goats (She took her first steps four days after we returned). We had experiences we would never forget, despite the grubby clothes, extra work and long hours in the car.

We may not have had We Are The Champions playing as we hiked the Yellowstone Falls trail, but there was music in the air when we finally arrived home. The moment we pulled into our driveway, we heard the wafting notes of the finale of the Music Man welcoming us back. Our neighbor, Sundance Mountain Resort, puts on an outdoor summer musical every year and it was just our luck to arrive home as the final overture sounded. It was as if they knew we needed a proper welcome home.

Each of the National Parks we visited on the National Park to Park Highway tour.

Now that we’re home, real life is back with a vengeance. School, work, home and real life responsibilities vie for attention. At times I wish it we could just pack into the truck and take off again, leaving all of it behind. I know every adventure takes time and effort, including the adventure of rearing outdoors loving kids.

Why I Hate Yosemite National Park

I hate to be a hater, but nobody should visit Yosemite in the summer. I don’t care if that’s your only free weekend, if the President is going to be there, or you got in for free. Visiting Yosemite in the summer is a recipe for frustration. It’s just not worth the hassle.

I say this from experience. We visited Yosemite because it was a stop on the National Park toPark Highway, but it was by far my least favorite park.

The crowds were the worst. Perhaps it would’ve been different in another year. This is the National Park Service centennial, so naturally more people have been visiting the National Parks. In addition to that, one of Yosemite’s main attractions – the Mariposa Grove of Sequioas – was closed this summer for renovations. Had that been open, maybe the crowds of people on the trails, in the parking lots, in the campgrounds, at every lake, turn out and road would’ve been a bit smaller, but I doubt it.

I get it, Yosemite Valley is beautiful. The sheer cliffs and exquisite waterfalls are breath taking. But with so many people crammed into the relatively small space of Yosemite Valley the prevailing feeling was one of claustrophobic encroachment, not peaceful wilderness. Call me jaded, but I don’t like my National Parks to feel like city streets.

I wonder what John Muir would think of this wild space now. On one hand it is protected from people who want to exploit the natural resources, but on the other it’s been ruined by the huge numbers of people. I know, I contributed to that crowd. I know, everyone has a right to our public lands. I don’t have great answers, but I do think the shuttle should be mandatory and a parking area should be available at the entrance of Yosemite Valley.

The one redeeming activity we enjoyed in Yosemite was riding our Woom Bikes along the well developed bike trail system on the Yosemite Valley floor. On a bike you can visit Mirror Lake, ride over to Yosemite Falls, travel between campgrounds or visit a Visitors Center without having to fight traffic or tour buses. The trails are flat, paved and offer great views of the valley. I just wish there was a little more solitude. No, actually a lot more solitude.

At every National Park on this Park to Park Highway journey, I’ve tried to get out on bikes with the kids. Little G first learned the art of pedaling at the Grand Canyon. Now that I’ve had a taste of my whole family on wheels, I want more and more. 

The key to our success with biking as a family has been our Burley D’Lite Bike Trailer and Woom Bikes (pronounced Voom). Baby L rides in the trailer along with extra bike tires, a pump, snacks, water and often times Little G as well. Since the Burley D’Lite can handle up to 100 lbs and has adjustable suspension I don’t worry about how the ride is for them, I just worry about how much it’ll work my thighs. No uphill please!

Ideally Little G would ride her Woom bike along with Big E. Woom designs their bikes with kids in mind, even down to eighteen month olds on their tiny balance bike. Their bikes are light weight, easy to handle and durable.

Big E is already a pro, and even though Little G gave up on the Yosemite bike ride before it really began, I know she’ll get the hang of riding her Woom 3. The bike seems perfectly made for her. Others must feel that way too, because a family we passed cheered when they saw our bikes saying, “We love our Woom bikes too! Woohoo!”

After the valley bike ride, I was ready to get away from the crowds and explore Tioga Pass. The Tioga Pass road was purchased a century ago by Steven Mather, the first National Park Service director and one of the advocates of the National Park to Park Highway. Because of that I was interested in driving through the northern part of the park. I also hoped the crowds would dissipate further from the valley. Not a chance.

Unfortunately we got stuck in traffic. A car accident held up a long line of cars for more than an hour. Even after that, any parking along the Tioga Road was taken, including near Tenaya Lake, which looked like a fun place to swim, but not worth the hassle of fighting the crowds.

Our trip to Yosemite included being stuck for an hour on the road to Tuolumne meadows because of a car accident, and another hour of trying to find a place to park in Yosemite Valley. Once we did find a spot, we rode our bikes along with a million other people to Mirror Lake, which was more of a wide spot in the river than an actual lake.

All in all I was glad to get out of the park and to the peaceful campground at Devil’s Postpile National Monument. Although the bike ride was fun, if we ever visit Yosemite again it will be in the spring, fall or winter. I’m done fighting crowds to see beautiful spaces, there are more beautiful spaces in the world with less people.

Sequoia National Park Then and Now

In 1920, the National Park to Park Highway inaugural tour visited Sequoia National Park to see the largest trees in the world. Their tour brought them through Visalia in late October and unfortunately was cut short due to an unexpected snow storm. Still, their experience at Sequoia National Park has some similarities to what we experienced at this historic place.

National Park to Park Highway tour on Auto Log, 1920
Logging
Giant sequoia trees take thousands of years to grow. I have little doubt that if early national park advocates hadn’t acted to save the giant sequoia trees they would’ve been cut down and used for boring things like houses and firewood. Thanks to the foresight of previous generations, I get to see these beautiful wonders. 

More than in any other National Park, I felt a gratitude to people who came before me. I’m proud that at some point in our American history we made the good decision to protect these amazing natural wonders. Being in the giant forest reminded me that humans are just a small part of the natural world, even though our impact can be massive.

Auto Log
Why is driving through/on a tree so fun? In the 1920 National Park to Park Highway tour, the drivers parked on Auto Log for the iconic photo seen above. The massive Sequoia Log doesn’t allow cars on it anymore thanks to a car partially falling through on a rotten spot in the 1930s, but I still stopped to check it out. We loved Tunnel Log, the only tree you can drive through in Sequoia National Park. The Ultimate Adventure Vehiclebarely fit – the life jackets scraped through on the top.

Crystal Cave
The 1920 National Park to Park Highwaytour had planned a trip to Crystal Cave but was forced to change plans when an early snowstorm rolled in. We got to visit this unique subterranean space and really enjoyed it. The formations are truly impressive, some still shiny with the crystals that gave the cave its name. Some parts of the tour had tight spaces (nothing like at Mesa Verde) so baby carriers weren’t allowed, but Baby L did great in my arms.

Swimming

Our favorite part of Sequoia National Park was swimming in Crystal Creek. I doubt the 1920s National Park to Park Highway group even considered this as an option since they visited in October. For us it was the highlight of the trip, even though it was a bushwhacked scramble to get there. The natural water slide empties into a clear cold pool. The creek flows over granite, tall trees grow all around and in the summer it’s a beautiful place to play.

Roughing it

Another similarity between the 1920s National Park to Park Highway tour and our stay at Sequoia National Park was the accommodations. The drivers on the inaugural trip mostly stayed in hotels and stopped in towns along the route, but here in Sequoia, the lodge was closed for the season so superintendent John R White gathered mattresses and blankets for the party to sleep on the floor. Our whole trip we’ve been sleeping on camp mats, so I can definitely relate.
General Sherman
Of course we hiked the General Sherman Trail to see the largest tree in the world. That’s the main attraction at Sequoia, and it’s definitely not to be missed. The General Sherman trail connects to several other hiking trails in the area. I was worried about crowds around the General Sherman tree, but the trails nearby circle other great trees so it seemed like the crowds were able to meander without becoming too thick. I loved that we each got to experience the peaceful forest together.

Me walking on Auto Log
Can You Feel It?
Visiting Sequoia National Park meant feeling awed walking under the largest trees in the world. Looking up takes on a new meaning when the trees seem to go on forever. Sequoia National Park was a special place back when the 1920 National Park to Park Highway tour visited and it’s a special place today. I’m glad I got a chance to experience it with my entire Mountain Family. People coming together for a cause can do great things.