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AI explorers: Backcountry pitched its tent in the cloud, now it's gearing up for gen AI

May 30, 2024
Igor Cherny

Chief Technology Officer, Backcountry

As one of the largest digital retailers of outdoor equipment, Backcountry is always evolving its tech stack so it can summit any obstacle.

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In 1996, a former Olympic ski jumper teamed up with a childhood friend and entrepreneur to share their passion for off-piste skiing and mountaineering adventures and make it easier for fellow outdoor aficionados to get further off the beaten paths. From those humble beginnings selling avalanche beacons from a garage in Park City, the two grew their aptly named BackcountryStore.com into a global outdoor retailer that’s about grit, about gear, and about connecting people to their passions.

Today, Backcountry’s vision is clear: to provide the best outdoor gear and to be the best at doing it. As a web pioneer, technology has always been core to our advantage. In my role as Chief Technology Officer, I’m always hunting for the latest technology to deliver on our mission the same way our customers want the latest skis, crampons, tents, sleeping bags, boots, ropes, bikes, and the rest of our hundreds of thousands of offerings that bring their adventures to life.

But like a climber who can’t quite figure out the right sequence of moves to conquer the crux of that big ascent, our engineers were getting bogged down in infrastructure commodities that took too much time and energy away from sending it on the next great digital products. They were racking and stacking servers, managing security, or trying to constantly upgrade technology rather than focusing on what they do best.


To empower our engineers with the right tools to support their jobs, we realized we had to rethink our own equipment. It was time we overhauled our backend systems, which we’ve been pursuing for the past two years with Google Cloud.

With our new systems in place, Backcountry has been able to accelerate development times and improve our service to customers, whether that’s offering them the best deals at the best times, helping them find exactly the gear they need, or maintaining a stable site to drive those sales.

Reaching peak performance with the cloud

With our previous setup, if we needed a new server, we had to unmount an old one, and then procure, rack, and stack a new one. It was a time-consuming, laborious, inefficient process that could take weeks and used significant resources. Now, with Google Cloud, we can spin up our environment in seconds and scale it to meet demand loads — something that’s especially important for a retailer with major sales moments throughout the year. The cloud has drastically simplified or solved our site’s reliability, scalability, and security because Google Cloud handles much of this automatically.

All of our data now lives in BigQuery, a fully managed cloud data warehouse with built-in machine learning, while our analytics runs on Looker, a self-service, unified business intelligence platform. Together, these solutions have become the brain of our business, helping uncover new insights and informing critical decisions across the organization.

In 2023, Backcountry had its first holiday season running completely on Google Cloud. Our CEO reported that it was the smoothest holiday in her more than 30 years of retail experience.

Going the distance with AI

Having reached the summit with our migration, Backcountry has built a robust roadmap for 2024 and 2025 that expands on our growing cloud-native capabilities.

We’ve just implemented a new search tool and are developing a new production information management system as we speak. Next, we’ll take on the replatforming of our core ecommerce operations. We will apply our new infrastructure and cloud-based tools to all aspects of retailing, from inventory and price management to virtual try-ons, product content enrichment, and more. And because of our rock-solid data foundation in BigQuery and Looker, we can now pick and choose the best AI use cases for our business.

We have plans to deploy AI for numerous processes in the near future and I am convinced this technology will fundamentally change the retail landscape.

Our engineers are already using AI in their code and for test cases that can simplify the way we work every day. Our new product information management system will use generative AI capabilities in Google Cloud to enrich our product content, optimizing things like descriptions or layouts for the best engagement. The evolution of our ecommerce platform will enable AI-driven solutions that will further improve the customer experience.

We have plans to deploy AI for numerous processes in the near future and I am convinced this technology will fundamentally change the retail landscape.

Igor Cherny, Backcountry CTO

For organizations just beginning their AI journey, my advice is to work with a partner who knows what they’re doing, and then enhance the tools in the way your business demands. By teaming up with Google Cloud, we’ve gained access to leading technology, hands-on support teams, and a culture of constant transformation.

Like a good belay partner, ours is a collaboration we can rely on for the big moves that lie ahead.

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