Blazing the Way: Trailblazers Camping and Outdoor Store

Imagine your ideal camping spot: maybe it’s nestled in a valley bottom, with alpine lilies dotting the landscape or perhaps it lies adjacent to a bubbling stream that lulls you to sleep when the stillness of night takes over. 

I’m sure you didn’t picture planting your tent right next to a bustling railroad track with a nuclear power plant looming in the distance. “Our first camping trip was . . . in Darlington, Ontario, and there’s a nuclear power plant there,” said Mark Denton, recalling the trip from back in his university days. 

This experience became the catalyst for many more trips to come. Originally from Ontario, Denton never set out on the path of entrepreneurship but came to it in a roundabout way after getting his degree from the University of Toronto in electrical engineering. After nine years working as an engineer and moving out to Cochrane, Alberta, for the job, it was time for a change. 

Owner of Trailblazers Outdoor Store, Mark Denton, poses outside his shop on January 26, 2024.

“I was getting a bit restless in terms of wanting to try something entrepreneurial,” said Denton. At the time, Cochrane was home to only one outdoor retail store with a limited selection of basic gear. “I like the outdoors, and if this is all that Cochrane has to offer, I could probably do a better job if I started a store,” said Denton. 

From there, Trailblazers Camping and Outdoor Store began to take shape. 

Opening Up Shop 

Trailblazers Camping and Outdoor Store, Cochrane AB

“I totally underestimated the challenge,” said Denton. 

Opening their doors in 2001, the store originally began as an outdoor retailer, selling all new products from premium brands. As the market changed over the years and Denton began to look towards a different route, selling new products is now only half of what Trailblazers offers. 

“Consignment is an evolution of what we started as; it’s what we’ve now become,” said Denton. The idea to start selling pre-owned gear came from one of the store’s brand representatives looking to get rid of his equipment before moving to live on a boat.

After giving it a try, consignment began to take off in the Cochrane market and became a great solution for young families looking for sporting equipment for their kids and those struggling financially now had a way to purchase affordable gear and continue doing the activities they love. 

Mark Denton, owner of Trailblazers Camping and Outdoor Store

Nathania De Kluyver, a previous employee at Trailblazers, recalls that the common ground of outdoor pursuits was the very thing that fostered a connection beyond simple transactions during her time at the store.

“We got to talk to people who were like-minded,” said De Kluyver. It’s a love for the outdoors and purchasing equipment sustainably that builds connections above and beyond just the sale of a product. 

“Truthfully, I think our industry produces three to four times more stuff than the market can actually bear. So we’re actually recycling a lot of that stuff back into the market for as long as it’s usable,” said Denton. 

Denton has found success in offering customers both affordable and environmentally conscious options in their search for outdoor gear. But running a business comes with both highs and lows. “It’s a total commitment in that you’re responsible for the good and the bad,” said Denton. While the business has been running for over 20 years now, Denton recalls the early stages, when his time and identity were all wrapped up in Trailblazers. It took him 15 years to really gain any free time. Volunteering with several organizations in town, Denton notes that if he were to work a nine-to-five job, it just wouldn’t be possible for him to be so involved. 

Mark Denton, Owner of Trailblazers Camping and Outdoor Store

Looking back, he recalls that it wasn’t always easy to turn his passion for the outdoors into a business.

“There was a period where business took control and the joy of . . . outdoor pursuit was lost because now everything was transactional,” said Denton. “It’s taken me a while to find my way back there, where you just do it for the love of it. It can be tricky; it’s the same with any passion.” 

Denton regularly hikes with his wife and friends in Cochrane and has learned he really doesn’t have to go far to connect with nature; his passion for the outdoors remains alive and well.