The Fourth of July is generally a super busy time at Rendezvous River Sports, where water enthusiasts rent kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and all sorts of other gear for their adventures on lakes and rivers.
This year “the entire month of July was like the Fourth of July,” floor manager Kase Paul said. And it didn’t stop there. As of last week, when he spoke to the News&Guide, things were still going “pretty much full throttle.”
“It was probably our busiest summer of rentals that we’ve had in a while,” Paul said.
Rendezvous was not the only outdoors specialist to have a good summer, contrary to widespread trepidation in the spring. Businesses that supply the stuff and services for people to enjoy Jackson’s bike paths, trails, campsites and waterways saw business boom or at least not fall off as much as they’d feared because of the pandemic.
“I don’t think we realized just how busy our trails could be as Americans were in the United States looking for a vacation,” said Cathy Shill, owner of The Hole Hiking Experience, which offers guided outings.
Given the low expectations of last spring, the summer influx of visitors took a lot of businesses by surprise.
“We didn’t expect it to be so busy, so we didn’t staff up or inventory up,” said Dave Walters, owner of Jackson Hole Adventure Rentals. “We had to do some scrambling, for sure.”
Summer certainly got off to a slow start. The Hole Hiking Experience, for example, “limped along” in June, became “quite busy” after that and has stayed so through September to date, Shill said. But overall business is a tad lower because the company didn’t mix clients on hikes this year as a health precaution, which meant groups were smaller.
“For the first time in 31 years we’ve been doing only private tours,” Shill said.
A lot of customers were interested in escaping the hordes. “Where can you take us away from the crowds?” was a question Shill and her team heard especially this summer.
Things were different in other ways. For September and October bookings “we’re getting a lot of kids,” Shill said. “That’s odd.”
Paul noticed more day-of rentals, more midweek days when everything was rented out — “This year it was every day was like Saturday” — and newly minted residents shopping for gear.
“There are a lot of new Jacksonites that are moving to Jackson and saying, ‘We should get a standup paddleboard.’”
Many people coming to Jackson wanted to get out on electric bikes, and E-Bikes of Jackson Hole was there to rent the rides.
“I would guess we were up 50% over last year,” said Chris Knobe, owner of the West Broadway shop.
Bike sales were strong too. E-bikes in general are growing more popular, Knobe said, and “as far as an outdoor activity, something that people could do with their family was a good option under the current conditions.”
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s bike outlets — Hoback Sports in Jackson and Teton Village Sports and Jackson Hole Sports in the village — “had a nice summer in terms of volume of bike rentals,” resort spokeswoman Anna Cole said.
“Like everyone else, we didn’t know what to expect,” Cole said. “We prepared ourselves for a much smaller summer business, and we are pleasantly surprised by the turnout we had at all of our retail locations and all of our business lines.”
In particular there was “great demand for e-bike rentals and mountain bike rentals, especially out of Jackson Hole Sports,” which is at the base of the resort’s bike park. “The bike park itself had one of its strongest summers ever.”
Cole also said the resort was pleased with its employee COVID-19 testing program: “We can say with certainty that there was no workplace transmission of the virus.”
Teton Backcountry Rentals owner Patrick Collins described summer 2020 as “ a pretty average season,” but he wasn’t complaining.
Earlier this year, prospects looked grim for the North Cache Street shop that rents all sorts of camping gear, from small items like bear spray and water filtration systems to the big stuff, like tents, sleeping bags and overnight backpacks.
“We saw almost our entire camper reservation calendar for the summer get canceled and refunded,” Collins said. “Then it got slowly booked back up.”
After a dismal April and May and slow June, the shop was busier than average in July and August, which evened things out. While there weren’t a lot of organized groups, road-trippers abounded, including people who’d made last-minute decisions to hit the highway.
“We certainly saw a lot of East Coast and Southeast people who had driven here,” Collins said.
“We were prepared for the worst,” Collins said. “Once June got going it ended up being pretty normal summer. We’re lucky, for sure, in that respect.”
Jackson Hole Adventure Rentals on Highway 89 (and in Alpine as Alpine Adventure Rentals) saw strong demand for watercraft, ATVs and side by sides.
“Activities that allow plenty of social distancing,” is how owner Walters described the appeal. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in business.”
With international trips crossed off people’s summer plans, “we just had a lot of regional travelers this year due to car trips heading in this direction,” Walters said. And neighboring Highway 89 business Mad River Boat Trips didn’t operate this season, “so we had X amount of people that couldn’t go river rafting, so they had to find other adventures.”
All in all, “it’s been a really good year,” Walters said.
TravelStorysGPS, a Jackson company with a mobile platform for audio tours for people walking, riding bikes or sitting in car seats, has noted an uptick in usage, not only by people exploring destinations but also by armchair travelers thinking about future trips.
“Because we’re COVID-friendly,” founder Story Clark said.
And with the virus still not licked, the company has recently seen a surge of interest from potential new clients. Its customer base includes nature preserves, historic districts, museums and other types of destinations and attractions.
Clark said they are “getting it” that to lure people they need a better virtual experience remotely and that when visitors are on-site they need a socially distanced way to learn about that site.
“Our business is dependent on tour sponsors hiring us to build tours for them,” Clark said. “The travel industry died in March. From March until July our business was way down. … But it is coming back, and it’s coming back quite strong.
“I think people are recognizing the need for having a tool that can provide a remote experience and a socially distanced experience,” Clark said. “They don’t need to be with a tour guide or on a bus.”