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Bouldering Gym Expands Options for Growing Sport

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Copyright 2017 Spokane Spokesman-Review

Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)

 

Adam Healy stands in a large, industrial building in north Spokane. Sparks fly as a man welds steel girders together. Angular slabs of plywood hang from steel frames already bolted to the floor.

"These big sweeping planes are really good for training," he says, gesturing at a 16-foot overhung wall of plywood.

Healy is the co-owner of a new bouldering-only climbing gym opening in Spokane. The facility will have 4,500 square feet of climbing surface.

When up and running, it will feature 180 to 200 new routes every six weeks.

The Bloc Yard Bouldering Gym at 233 E. Lyons will be Spokane's second climbing gym. Unlike Wild Walls, which opened in 1995, the Bloc Yard will only offer bouldering.

Bouldering doesn't require ropes, harnesses or belaying. Instead, participants climb on shorter routes. Pads on the floor protect against falls.

"You don't have to have a partner to do it," Healy said. "You can come in and have your own solo session."

Healy, who graduated from Gonzaga University in 2003, returned to Spokane in November when Shaun Olcott called asking if he wanted to help start a gym in Spokane.

Shaun Olcott's brother Jason is in charge of the construction. The Olcott brothers just opened a climbing gym in their hometown of Whitefish, Montana, and have been involved with the popular Portland-area circuit climbing gyms in different ways.

The nearly 10,000-square-foot building the Bloc Yard is housed in has been abandoned for years. Most recently it was a gymnastics studio.

Shaun Olcott said the space is being designed with three primary groups in mind: climbing competitors, children and new climbers.

The tallest walls will be nearly 16 feet. Those will be reserved primarily for competition problems (a bouldering problem is a sequence of moves up a wall). There will be a shorter wall for children and beginners as well as an intermediate sized wall.

In Spokane they hope to expand an already growing market.

"Keep in mind bouldering gyms offer something rope gyms don't, that is you don't need specialized equipment and you don't need specialized training," Shaun Olcott said. "You need a pair of a shoes and a chalk bag and you are climbing. I think that's going to open climbing up to the broader market."

Over the last decade, indoor climbing gyms have exploded onto the fitness and business scenes. Last year, 27 new gyms opened in the U.S. representing a 7 percent increase. Since 2012, the climbing gym industry has grown on an of average 9 percent per year, according to the industry magazine Climbing Business Journal.

Growth for 2017 is anticipated to top 10 percent. Part of that growth, according to Climbing Business Journal, can be attributed to climbing's planned debut as an Olympic sport in 2020.

Olcott believes the explosion of interest means Spokane is ripe for two climbing gyms.

"We obviously want to work with Wild Walls," Jason Olcott said. "It's a climbing community and we like to work together. That's a huge tenant of climbing."

Before Wild Walls opened, Spokane's first taste of facility climbing came in the form of walls, first at Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s; then Mountain Gear opened Spokane's first commercial climbing wall in 1989. REI erected two 28-foot-high stonelike climbing columns in its store in 1995.

Jason Olcott hopes the Bloc Yard's much larger facility can give people a taste for climbing, and then if they want to they can pursue it further at Wild Walls, or by climbing outside.

"When we turn that many more new people on to a sport they're, like, 'What's next?'" he said. "Go to Wild Walls, go get on the top ropes there, or go outside. It's almost kind of like a factory."

Wild Walls is also expanding its bouldering area.

For more than 20 years Wild Walls has been Spokane's only climbing gym. Todd Mires, the manager of Wild Walls, said he'd planned an expansion of the bouldering area for a year.

"It's not like a retaliatory thing," he said. "We just clearly need more bouldering."

The Wild Walls expansion will add nearly 2,000 square feet of bouldering, bringing the gym's total bouldering area to nearly 5,000 square feet. Construction should start within a week or two, Mires said, although he's not sure when it will be completed.

Mires said the majority of Wild Walls climbers come for the rope climbing and he doesn't anticipate the business suffering when the Bloc Yard opens.

Contact the writer:

(509) 459-5417

elif@spokesman.com

 

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February 19, 2017
 
 
 

 

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