An immeasurable amount of fishing gear, tents, 4-wheelers, guns -- pretty much anything needed to enjoy the outdoors -- packed Sullivan Arena, Ben Boeke Arena and the shared parking lot Saturday at the 31st Great Alaska Sportsman Show.
The only thing more ubiquitous than equipment was the thousands of anglers, hunters and hikers perusing more than 500 vendor booths.
Event organizer Steve Shepherd said a record crowd of approximately 20,000 people is expected for the four-day show. Shepherd estimated Saturday was the largest crowd, between 8,000 and 10,000. The first two days brought a combined 6,000 people to the show, Shepherd said, and he expects about 6,000 more Sunday for the final day.
Advancement in technology is something that stands out to Shepherd, who's been involved with the event since its inception.
"GPS has come a long way," he said. "Technology is catching up with the industry."
The show offers more than just one-stop outdoor shopping, Shepherd said. The $11 entry fee gives attendees access to a variety of workshops and seminars -- some of which would cost upward of $300, he said.
Putting on the Sportsman Show is a year-round endeavor, Shepherd said. As soon as this year's event ends, it's time to begin planning the 32nd show.
"It's a very involved process," he said. "We start work on the (next) show Monday."
One item that received a lot of attention was the Action Trackchair -- a cross between a wheelchair and ATV that enables users to traverse snow, mud and up to a foot of water.
The triangular tracks on either side of the chair are reminiscent of a tank. There's even a model that will place a person upright.
"That has to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen," one passerby said.
That's a typical response Richard Dreifuerst hears.
"A lot of 'cools, wows and ohs.' Those are the big three," said Dreifuerst, who sells the Trackchair in Alaska.
Dreifuerst, of Cooper Landing, has a friend that sells the chair in the Lower 48 and he thought Alaskans could benefit from the product.
"You can't get anywhere in the winter," he said.
It also allows people with disabilities to enjoy outdoor activities, Dreifuerst said.
"What a better way to get people back in action doing things outside again," he said. "It opens so many more avenues for people."
Something for the ladies
When Anchorage's Gia Varrati first became interested in firearms, the patrons at Birchwood shooting range dubbed her "tactical Barbie." No doubt her long blonde hair encouraged the nickname.
Now, it's become her brand. Varrati started Tactical Barbie Designs two years ago, selling merchandise tailored to female gun enthusiasts.
But Varrati has a bigger goal: To spread firearm education to women. A National Guard employee, Varrati wants women to learn how to take care of themselves.
Part of that is walking with confidence, Varrati said, rather than displaying the posture of a victim. Clothes can help too.
"Even just a gun on a shirt, they walk taller and are more empowered," she said.
Walking into a sporting goods store with little knowledge about firearms can be uncomfortable for women, Varrati said. So she's here to help -- and her humorous brand helps break the ice.
"It sparks a conversation," she said.
Hunting blind on the go
For two years, a buck was out of reach for Todd Rubey as he hunted deer in the swamps of Minnesota.
"He would never come within 300 yards of the tree line," Rubey said.
So, he constructed a deer blind designed to fit on a 4-wheeler. Not only did it lead to a successful hunt, but a new invention for Rubey.
The Traveling Tower is designed to attach to ATVs and trucks, and Rubey is even creating one for boats. Rubey invented the steel blind for hunting, but he said about half of his customers purchase it for other applications. Maintenance workers use it as scaffolding, he said, and it also works for cleaning gutters, trimming trees or any household chores.
"The average person can use it at home for maintenance projects," Rubey said.
Reach Mike Nesper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335
By MIKE NESPER