Backcountry.com is to online active gear shopping what Amazon.com is to books or Zappos.com is to shoes. They are the best-known e-tailer in the outdoor clothing and gear niche, and just like Amazon, they’ve now branched out to sell their own products alongside the industry’s top brand names. Even if you haven’t used Backcountry.com you’ve probably seen the company’s goat logo everywhere, as loyal fans are eager to slap the stickers on water bottles, skis, laptops, and countless Thule roof racks and SUV rear windows whose drivers are on their way to outdoor adventures (or just running errands). But the company hasn’t always been so successful: it was launched in a garage in 1996, but fortunately co-founder Jim Holland knew a little about outdoor gear – Holland is a lifelong athlete and two-time Olympic ski jumper who turned entrepreneur with his friend and Backcountry partner John Bresee. They began by selling technical outdoor products not readily available at local stores, and from these humble roots, the company has grown exponentially and is now a leading retailer of every imaginable type of active clothing and gear for skiing, snowboarding, cycling, hiking, camping, climbing, fly fishing and other outdoor pursuits.
Headquartered in Park City, a world-famous ski town in heart of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, and an area known for four season outdoor recreation, Backcountry now carries more than a thousand different brands, but really differentiates itself through the service it offers to customers. To help potential buyers sift through the myriad choices when buying clothes and gear, the company has developed a large team (at any given time there are about 450 of them, give or take a hundred) of very knowledgeable customer representatives, known as “gearheads,” who are experts in specific activities and help customers choose the products that are right for them. By answering a couple of questions about activities the customer is passionate about and brands they already like, customers can choose their own gearheads from a list of a few suggestions. Like a personal shopper at fancy department store, customers can use their chosen gearhead as an ongoing Backcountry connection, and with this model, the real person on the other end will learn more about your preferences and needs over time, further enhancing your shopping experiences.
Besides helping customers shop better, the company’s in-house stable of dedicated outdoor enthusiast gearheads gave it a unique R&D edge to develop its own lines of apparel. This is a brand-new project that just launched this month and debuted with a lifestyle collection. The offerings run the gamut from technical rainwear to everyday tees, dresses, shorts, pants, hoodies and shirts. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the company is looking several seasons ahead and towards adding additional lines. Product offerings will grow this spring and summer to include camp and mountain biking collections. Then in the fall, Backcountry takes its biggest step with this endeavor, launching a more technical outdoor collection, yet will continue to add to its casual clothing. The new Touring Collection will feature performance apparel and gear specifically focused on the specific needs of women and men participating in one of the fastest growing areas of winter sport, backcountry skiing and snowboarding with AT (alpine touring) skis and splitboards.
I wrote here very recently about the explosive growth in AT skiing, explaining why it is so much fun and so popular and how you should go about giving it a try. AT skiing is also being embraced by more ski resorts, so if you’re not quite ready for the true backcountry, you can still “earn your turns” and get a great workout in a more controlled environment. But you will still benefit from sport-specific gear, and Backcountry’s Touring Collection is a nod to the company’s very first sale more than decade ago, an avalanche beacon. The collection will be designed with assistance and input of those gearheads who are adventurers and experts attuned to detail and technical performance, but are also armed with insight from past customer feedback – good and bad – on products. Notably, the women’s products are being designed by women, still not the norm in the industry, with input from female gearheads, ambassadors, and customers. Individual pieces in the Touring Collection are engineered to work alone and to fit together as a cohesive kit, including solely Backcountry branded layering and insulation pieces as well as products created in partnership with leading brands such as Smartwool, Flylow, Black Diamond and DPS Skis. It’s always good to have more choices of quality gear, especially for women, so I am excited to see and try the new products.