SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of retailers, manufacturers and just-plain outdoor geeks milled around the Salt Palace Convention Center floor last weekend looking at the latest and greatest outdoor gear and ideas.

An economic impact of millions of dollars was felt in the Salt Lake area, and trends for the 2010-11 winter outdoor season were set in motion.

Amid that flurry of activity, though, was a competition — outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen usually consider themselves athletic and sporty, right? — that may have an impact on the industry in future years.

Keeping with that spirit, the Outdoor Retailer trade show, for the fourth time, invited a handful of college students to participate in a 48-hour design competition to help create the next wave of innovation on the clothing rack for the active outdoorsperson.

And this year's competition had the designers focused on the "on-the-go female outdoor enthusiast on any adventure from the mountain to a dinner appointment."

With only two days to get their mission objective, grab their materials and create a ready-to-wear garment, Faith Anderson, a student from Philadelphia University, took top honors with a design she called "Pretty Straight."

"Being able to participate in this type of competition and work with this caliber of fabrics is a dream," Anderson said. "I never expected to win, but did come ready to work hard and represent my school well."

Anderson defeated four other student designers from around the country.

Her design was an insulated outerwear jacket that sported a fitted waist, high-lined collar and removable hood.

The materials and fabrics were supplied by companies such as 3M, Polartec and Duraflex.

"The passion, creativity and execution of the student designers never cease to impress our panel of judges," said Pam Theodosakis, co-founder and design director of prAna and head judge of Project OR. "This cycle was especially challenging because each of the students' designs directly answered the design brief challenge. The judges were impressed by each student's creative approach."

The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show will be back next year, as will the Summer Market show in a few months.

The economic downturn seen around the country has had an impact on the industry, but things have rebounded, many at the show said.

"It's not that the recovery has been robust," said Van Dine, founder of Anhu Footwear. "But we realized the sky didn't fall. We've returned to growth. Not an explosive growth, but in general there is quiet confidence."

Statistics showed the show had more visitors — and more potential buyers for the exhibitors' goods — than ever.

Kenji Haroutunian, the Outdoor Retailer show director, said attendance was up by about 9 percent through the first two days of the four-day floor show.

"We had already hit last year's number by 11 o'clock yesterday morning (the second day)," he said. "We're tracking well above last year in every category: stores, buyers and overall attendance."

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com