Aspen Times Weekly: Virtual reality comes to outdoor retail |

Aspen Times Weekly: Virtual reality comes to outdoor retail

I put on headphones and strap an Oculus Rift viewer to my face. Instantly, a digital world emerges, a huge blue sky and climbers clinging to a rock face.

It’s January in Utah, and I’m sitting down in a booth at an industry trade show. But I feel 1,000 feet off the ground, the technology transporting in a dizzying immersive display.

Welcome to the latest in marketing for 2015. An initiative by The North Face and Jaunt, a virtual-reality company based in Palo Alto, Calif., will soon deliver ersatz-outdoors experiences in stores around the United States.

“Imagine a kid in New York or somewhere who puts this headset on,” said Eric Oliver, director of digital marketing at The North Face. “It’s so real-seeming it might encourage them to get outside and see this stuff in their real life.”

My virtual-reality trip, delivered by Oliver and his marketing crew in the trade show booth, was impressive — footage captured with special 16-lens cameras in Yosemite National Park was viewed via the headset, which allows a wearer to look up, down, and side to side.

The “360 and 3D” footage whirls by and plays with your emotions and inner ear. As a rock climber reached on a steep wall, I got tense. Then he fell, the rope catching him in an arcing swing, and my stomach dropping with the digital figure as he dangled 40 stories above the valley floor.

The in-store device debuted to the public last month in Chicago. Goggles and headsets, as well as the software to run the production, are being prepared for distribution to more The North Face stores, with New York and San Francisco next, and then a national roll-out.

At home, anyone can view the virtual Yosemite footage as well as BASE-jumping scenes near Moab, Utah, via a free download of the file at It’s viewable on headsets like the Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard.

My short peek at the production convinced me that virtual-reality can be a powerful new kind of media. Try it out at a store or elsewhere this year for a “through the looking glass” kind of outdoors experience.

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at

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