Popularity of climbing indoors is on rise; might be time to get back in the harness | AspenTimes.com

Popularity of climbing indoors is on rise; might be time to get back in the harness

by Barbara Platts

Since its start in the mid-1980s, indoor rock climbing was seen as a slightly risky and extremely difficult niche sport. It was considered by a good chunk of the country to be off the beaten path, meant for those who were either adrenaline junkies or professional climbers (or both).

However, in recent years, the sport has slowly entered into the mainstream. From 2015 to 2016, the number of commercial climbing gyms in the U.S. increased from 388 to 414. In 2017, 43 more gyms were added throughout the country, according to Climbing Business Journal, an independent news outlet that covers the indoor climbing industry. These numbers don't include the hundreds (possibly thousands) of climbing walls featured in larger facilities throughout the country, such as the ones in many Dick's Sporting Goods stores or in local recreation centers.

Indoor rock climbing is seeing growth in popularity largely because of the news, which came in August 2016, that the sport would be a part of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The competition will include 40 climbers (an equal number of men and women) competing over three rock climbing categories: sport, bouldering and speed.

The news about the Olympics is not the only reason indoor rock climbing has increased in popularity over the past several years, though. There's been a lot of money put into large indoor climbing spaces across the country. They're popping up everywhere, from large cities to small towns, thanks to passionate climbers and savvy entrepreneurs.

Christina Frain, the director of sales and marketing for Eldorado Climbing Walls, a company based in Boulder that designs and builds rock climbing walls across the U.S. and in Canada, was interviewed for an article in the Snowmass Sun last week. Frain said there's been a huge desire to put climbing walls at ski resorts for an extra summer activity. She credits the surge in popularity to the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act passed in 2011, which allowed for more outdoor activities on Forest Service land.

Another reason for the popularity may be that millennials are getting involved in the sport. I can't find any exact studies that show participation numbers, however, the Outdoor Industry Association has come out with some numbers showing that young people in urban areas like to buy climbing-related gear. Many articles also allude to my generation participating in the sport. I've seen several of my friends take interest in rock climbing, as well. Many have opted for a monthly membership at a rock climbing facility instead of the traditional gym filled with treadmills, ellipticals and a weight room.

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The Climbing Business Journal also has a lot of hope when it comes to Generation Z (also known as centennials). The publication said it expects them to be huge participators in the sport (and many already are) because climbing gyms have been around since they were born and they are "comfortable there."

The promising growth of rock climbing can be seen very well on a local level. In the valley, new rock climbing walls and gyms are popping up. A new bouldering gym called Monkey House opened in Carbondale in July. In Snowmass, there's a climbing wall at Aspen Skiing Co.'s new Lost Forest. One is also being built in Base Village as a part of the Limelight Hotel. And that's not even mentioning the several walls in the valley that are features of recreations centers from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. For those who are interested in diving into rock climbing without actual rocks, the valley is an ideal place to try it.

As for me, I used to be obsessed with this indoor sport when I was growing up in Boulder. I always went to a place called The Spot. The gym opened in 2002 as the first-ever dedicated indoor bouldering facility in the country. I tried to keep up with my brother, cousins and stepdad, who were all much better than me at climbing. I also seized on the opportunity to hang out with boys in my high school class who were into the sport. Over time, I was actually able to keep up (kinda, sorta), and I grew to really love it. However, when I went to college in Boston, it was incredibly difficult to find rock climbing gyms close enough to climb in regularly (however, I've heard that's changed in recent years). With my busy college schedule and a lack of gyms to visit, my climbing hobby mostly fizzled out. But with all of this new hype around the sport, I'm thinking it may be time to squeeze back into my rock climbing shoes and put my finger and arm muscles to the test.

We will see how it goes!

Barbara Platts thinks it may be time to jump on the indoor rock climbing bandwagon. Reach her at bplatts.000@gmail.com or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.

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