Climbing walls on the rise in Colorado and at Snowmass Base Village | AspenTimes.com

Climbing walls on the rise in Colorado and at Snowmass Base Village

While rock-climbing remains a popular Colorado pastime, the demand for developed walls is on the rise at ski areas and within a number of other industries, according to Eldorado Climbing Walls company.

In Snowmass, this trend can be seen on the mountain at the Lost Forest's debut attraction and in Base Village, where a 53-foot-tall climbing wall is being built as part of the Limelight Hotel, both of which are Aspen Skiing Co. products.

Founded in 1994, the Boulder-based Eldorado group designs and builds climbing walls throughout the United States and Canada, and is behind both Snowmass structures.

"It's absolutely booming," Eldorado director of sales and marketing Christina Frain said of the statewide climbing wall scene.

"Ski areas in Colorado are regularly adding climbing to their summer options," Frain said in an interview Monday. "It's one of the amenities that is becoming expected during ski areas in the summer time."

While recreation centers, climbing gyms, colleges and universities are expected clientele, Frain said, in the past five years, newer markets — apartment and condominium complexes, public schools, ski areas and corporate offices — "have suddenly grasped onto climbing walls."

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Google, for example, contracted Eldorado to install a third climbing wall at its new campus in Boulder.

Frain attributed the surge at ski areas to the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act that congress passed in 2011.

"The flood doors opened after that legislation," Frain said. "It's never inexpensive to build on top of a mountain. It takes a lot of planning, and once you get Forest Service approval, it takes awhile for the walls to start getting built."

Snowmass was the fifth ski resort in the White River National Forest to pursue a summer recreational plan.

Frain pointed out that climbing's Olympic debut in 2020 may also be a contributor in its increasing popularity, but in any event, "It'll definitely raise awareness of the sport."

The five-story wall being constructed at the Limelight Hotel is the vision of John Calhoun, East West Partners' director of sales and marketing.

"The original idea behind the Limelight's vertical rock experience was to first continue to activate Base Village with cool mountain-oriented activities that families could enjoy over and over again," Calhoun wrote in an email. "Further, we wanted to add features to the village that ran deep into the historical and natural veins of Colorado."

An avid climber, Calhoun said he "spent a good deal" of his seven years at the University of Colorado at Boulder skipping class to climb routes at Eldorado Canyon.

"When the early climbing walls were first introduced, we thought they were great places to train," Calhoun said, "but the zen of being on a natural rock wall just wasn't there."

In more recent years, he said, companies started to add more natural features "so the experience was more realistic."

That is the goal of the Limelight climbing wall, which was designed to resemble popular climbing spots on Independence Pass.

"The idea is that if you walk up to it, it looks like granite that belongs in the neighborhood," Frain explained. "It looks like the rock that is found in and around Aspen in way that it's painted, in the macro-sculpting of it. It could probably be next to (a route in) the Grotto area, which influenced the way it was initially designed, painted, sculpted, etc."

Skylar Pais, a project manager with Eldorado, said the concrete and paint work was based off images of climbing routes on Independence Pass.

The wall also was designed to accommodate all levels of skill, Pais said, with routes ranging from large, "juggy" handholds to a full-length climbable crack.

Calhoun compared the wall's design to that of a ski area.

"There is no single route up," he said. "There are many variations and routes that climbers can create."

The wall will open to the public Dec. 15 in conjunction with the Limelight and Base Village's grand opening party (details to follow).

A team is on-site at Base Village seven days a week to ensure that the largest ski area village development in North America is substantially complete by November.

Limelight Snowmass general manager Lindsay Cagley said the intent is that the hotel will serve as "the community's living room."

In Aspen, the Limelight draws in visitors and locals, be it for après ski, happy hour or pizza specials.

Appealing not only to guests but also to residents is at the core of the Limelight brand, Cagley said, and the hotel hopes to carry this over in Snowmass.

"Part of that is recognizing that the community is the biggest piece of our success, especially here in Snowmass," Cagley said. "It's not Christmas all year-round, you don't always have the opportunity to have a full hotel, which means the community needs to feel comfortable inside our building."

In Snowmass, this will include "offering approachable price points in the restaurants, super long happy hours (and) being welcoming and accommodating," Cagley said.

Cagley, who has worked at the Limelights in Aspen and Ketchum, Idaho, added that locals' knowledge also is of value to visitors' experiences.

"People love sitting next to locals and creating a space where that happens is key," said Meaghan Lynch, who recently was named to Skico's new position of public relations manager for the Limelight Hotels.

With a 7,500-square foot lobby and lounge area, the Limelight Snowmass during peak season will offer live music Thursday to Monday nights, Cagley said.

A double-sided fireplace will sit in the sunken living room, while fire pits will be outside.

Chef Michael Coco, who also has worked at the other two Limelight hotels, will lead the Snowmass kitchen. The kitchen will include a pizza oven, like in Aspen, with a family-friendly, pizza-making program in the works, Cagley said.

The Limelight Snowmass boasts 99-rooms — of which 60 are designed to open up and connect for families or larger groups — and two employee housing units, totaling seven beds.

While the grand opening of Base Village is scheduled for Dec. 15, the Limelight Snowmass will open its doors Nov. 21 if construction goes as planned.

erobbie@aspentimes.com

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