Ogden climbing gym to expand as sport's popularity grows

Thursday , June 19, 2014 - 7:32 AM

OGDEN — The Front Climbing Club gym in downtown Ogden is growing, a sign of a climbing trend happening nationwide.

The gym opened in the historic American Can building in August 2010. It currently houses both the climbing club and CrossFit Ogden, but the CrossFit operation will be moving out by the end of the month. The Front’s owners and managers saw the move as an opportunity to expand, and they expect to complete their additional 2,500 square-foot bouldering surface by the end of the summer.

“We’re excited to keep growing, especially in this section of the city,” said Shad Burnham, an avid climber and a manager at the Front. “It’s nice to be part of the new growth and energy in Ogden. We’re also excited to keep bringing climbing to the masses.”

Indoor climbing isn’t just gaining momentum in Ogden, it’s a spreading movement throughout the country. According to the Climbing Business Journal, which monitors market trends, 28 new climbing gyms opened in 2013, representing a 10 percent growth rate compared to the previous year. Mike Helt, editor-in-chief with the publication, said another 33 facilities are in the works for 2014, meaning another 12.5 percent in growth.

“We’re still in the toddler stages of our industry, (but) there are some bigger moves happening now, and gym developers are starting to take off,” he said. 

The Front Climbing Club is among those developers. Its owner, Dustin Buckthal, also co-owns Vertical Solutions, a climbing wall construction business. 

“The whole climbing industry seems to be blowing up right now,” Buckthal said. “We see a lot of projects come through.”

Buckthal said his company worked on eight different projects last year, and they currently have several more in the works. Using their wall-building know-how, the Front’s owners are expanding their Salt Lake location this summer, too, along with the Ogden gym. They broke ground on the Salt Lake mega-facility last month by demolishing some neighboring buildings. It’ll ultimately be a 35,000 square-foot facility with an open-air courtyard between the current gym and the expansion. Front Climbing Club memberships allow access at both gym locations.

The Ogden gym’s expansion won’t be quite as huge, but it will bring around 50 to 75 percent more bouldering terrain. 

“We’ve been there four years now, and we’ve had nice constant growth (in membership),” Buckthal said. “It was time to add more terrain, that was kind of the idea of having the open area on the west side of the building, so we could see how we grow.”

The Front’s Ogden gym expansion will be just in its bouldering area, and not its rope climbing section. But bouldering represents another growing trend in indoor climbing because of its appeal to pros and novices alike. Bouldering is shorter than traditional ropes climbing but focuses on more intense, gymnastic-style moves. A boulderer doesn’t need to find a belay partner. Bouldering doesn’t require a lot of equipment or technical know-how.

“With bouldering, it’s just you and the wall,” Burnham said. “A lot of people boulder because it’s a quick workout. There’s not as much commitment involved.”

The momentum behind indoor climbing is driven in part by a growing set of gym customers. Indoor climbing has moved away from the days when gyms served as gritty training centers for hardcore traditional climbers. More and more, it’s morphing into a trendy way for urban-dwellers to stay fit.  

“I think the perceived extreme nature of climbing, that impression is going away,” Helt said. “Instead, people are realizing it’s a good workout.”

Climbing gyms also offer a sense of community, Helt said, an aspect most traditional treadmill and weight machine gyms lack.

“They’re very social. They’re a lifestyle. Climbing gyms take over people’s lives,” he said.

The indoor climbing base isn’t just growing in places like Utah and Colorado, where gyms traditionally appealed to outdoor climbers looking to train after work for weekend projects or stay in shape during the off season. 

“It’s also picking up in places with no mountains at all,” Helt said, “in places that have a lot of people but not a lot of rock.”

Last year, crag-removed urban areas constructing new climbing gyms included Boston, Houston, Philadelphia and Queens, N.Y. For the near future at least, it seems the gyms will keep taking climbing  from fringe sport to an activity with broader appeal. 

“It’s basically tapping into the outdoor community, giving them a place to come together, hang out and socialize, but also climb whenever they want,” Helt said. “And it’s way easier to do than trudging out to rock after work.”

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