DENVER – Anybody arriving within about the first half-hour of the opening of Friday’s second day of The Ultimate RV Show at Denver’s Convention Center might have had a sinking feeling.
About the only person in the lobby of the show early on was the kind woman greeting visitors and showing them where to go and the closest thing to a line outside was the giant blue bear peeking in the Convention Center’s window.
But within a few minutes, a trolley carrying hundreds of RV enthusiasts made its way down the street outside and unloaded a crowd of visitors. And that was just the beginning.
First-timers and veterans alike were turning out for a show that was given a new focus this year by its Camping World and Good Sam promoters.
This year, the show wasn’t just about selling – although that certainly was an important part of it.
Instead, admission to the show was free in an effort geared toward bringing back some of the new customers the industry had gained over the past couple of years to offer them an impressive lineup of educational classes designed to help them learn more about their vehicles and the lifestyle and even just figure out some operations that might not quite make sense to newbies.
Courses were led by James and Stefany Adinaro of @TheFitRV and included topics such as how to pack for an RV trip, tips on RVing in the winter, getting up to speed with a new RV and the safety of water in an RV tank.
“Traffic is a lot better than we anticipated,” said Matthew Urland, GM of Camping World in Denver and Golden. “We were even giggling last night at what a great first day we had. There was definitely a lot more energy, which is showing us that there is a very pent-up demand still.”
“People have learned a lot over the past two years,” said Vilma Fraguada, president of GS Media & Events at Camping World Holdings. “RVing is still at the top of the list of how people want to spend their free time.”
In addition to the seminars and a small number of vendor booths for visitors to check out, more than 200 new RVs from Camping Worlds around Colorado were on display.
Also, 2023 marks the first year the show had displays of pre-owned RVs on hand.
“At this show, we put an emphasis not on just the sale or the price of an RV, but the functionality, service network, the use and maintenance – all of the things that encompass this lifestyle,” Urland said. “Surprisingly enough, the used models were a little more than half the overall sales on the first day. We wanted to be a little more diverse. Our dealerships have the capacity to fill up this whole entire arena with new product, but because the demographics of this lifestyle have changed so much…that younger buyer may not have the ability to jump into the more expensive things, so we wanted to offer that younger buyer the opportunity for something that was a little more affordable.”
But as with any consumer RV show, the new rolling stock was the main attraction.
Alongside plenty of familiar names like THOR, Forest River, Lance and even in-Tech were plenty of different names that appealed largely to the singular Colorado audience that is just as likely to buy a pop-up trailer as to consider the latest innovations in a fifth wheel.
Jumping Jack Trailers from Salt Lake City, Happier Campers from Los Angeles and newcomers Wolf Rigs from Englewood, Colo., were among some of the unusual manufacturers on hand.
Wolf Rigs is a veteran-owned and operated company that builds rugged, off-road vehicles built to get way off-road.
The signature Patton is built on a repurposed Humvee HMMWV Chassis with a new engine, power train and suspension springs – making it not just a military surplus vehicle.
“My partner and I were both Army Infantry,” said co-founder Owner and CEO Reed Gerdes. “Every RV person I talked to complained about how often they are in the shop. I thought we could build something better. I saw the Sprinter Vans and saw them off-road and saw what they couldn’t do. So born was the idea of the Humvee chassis.”
An initial meeting with the Patton might draw comparisons to the EarthRoamer rigs that also are built in Colorado. Gerdes said he did draw some inspiration from what EarthRoamer has done, but the Patton serves a different audience at a different price point – currently starting at $350,000.
Lending to the off-road capabilities, Patton carries 60 gallons of fresh water with on-demand hot water. It also has 800 watts of solar and 500-amp hours of battery storage.
And did we mention they are rugged?
“I want these things to be able to be used how I would use them,” Gerdes said. “Early on, I didn’t have the camera system mounted on it and I was backing the vehicle up and didn’t see one of those little parking posts. I hit the post. It stopped the vehicle and left a dent. I left that there because when I tell people that story, because if you hit that post with a regular RV, it’s going to destroy the vehicle.”
Gerdes said Wolf Rigs currently builds to order and is selling through a single dealership, but will consider growing its model if it proves popular. Wolf Rigs also displayed a concept rugged trailer being pulled by another Humvee. This trailer was parked with one wheel atop a stack of plywood to show some of its rugged capabilities.