Offering summer-fun inspiration, the upcoming Seattle RV Show promises to be a respite from the damp Northwest winter. Now in its 50th year, the event features hundreds of new RVs and a bumper crop of related gear -- signs of a rebounding industry.
"We are definitely picking up steam," says Dave Helgeson, director of the show since 1994.
Almost two dozen dealers and more than 50 exhibitors will be rolling into CenturyLink Field Event Center for the show, which opens Thursday and runs through Feb. 10.
"This year we have manufacturers coming out of the woodwork that want to put their products on," says Helgeson. "We have solar panels and awnings and generators and backup cameras and all sorts of stuff."
There is an educational component as well. Seminars cover a wide variety of topics, from "Drive Your Motorhome Like a Pro" to "Boondocking 101," as well as destination stories. Gary Bunzer, known as the RV Doctor, will offer maintenance seminars.
The excitement for this year's show dovetails with the national surge of interest in RVs. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association expects sales nationwide to rise 4.5 percent this year over last, and increased interest from consumers in turn drives innovations from ever-competitive manufacturers.
That includes packing more space into less, in the form of improvements in slide-outs. "Slide-outs are upwards of 26, 28 feet long -- literally the whole wall of the coach goes out," Helgeson says. "It allows [manufacturers] to do some pretty interesting things with the floor plan."
What can they put in that extra room? "They've gotten to the point now where maybe the whole kitchen slides out, so the gas lines, the electric lines and the plumbing lines go out with it," he says.
Not everyone wants to cook inside, though. "The biggest thing involving kitchens in the last year has been outside kitchens," Helgeson says. "A full panel will slide out from the side of the RV. It will have a refrigerator, stove and sink in it -- where you're actually standing on the ground -- and you can cook right there."
Active travelers are also turning to toy haulers, which have inside rear space to carry an ATV, motorcycle or other "toys."
"Toy haulers can appeal to a lot of different groups," Helgeson says. Those who exhibit at trade shows across the country, for example, "can put all their inventory in the back and still have sleeping accommodations to travel to these fairs and events."
Wondering whether an RV will get your motor running? Helgeson recommends renting one first; rental companies will be at the show.
Newbies also can sign up for RV walkthroughs led by a technician, who will demonstrate appliances and electrical, gas and water systems. "It's a great way to get the feel of RVing," says Helgeson.