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Climbing Gym Too Small, Research Indicates

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In the November 2019 election, Teton County voters approved $22,000,000, via the SPET initiative’s Proposition #9, for “Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center Expansion and Renovation, Community Climbing Gym, King Street Extension, and Stormwater Treatment.”

To assist with the development of the climbing gym, The Teton Climbers’ Coalition (TCC) conducted more than 70 hours of research on climbing facilities around the country, identifying best practices and attributes that will help ensure the Rec Center climbing gym meets the community’s needs.

The research was complemented by extensive discussion among community members regarding attributes and priorities they would like to see included in the gym’s development.

A key observation from the research was that the proposed 5,750 square feet proposed for the gym will create a “negative user experience.”

The Enclosure Climbing Gym, a 10,000-square foot facility owned and operated by Andy Laakmann, closed in 2014. At the time of its close, the gym had 700 members, generated $500-700k/year in revenue and had 50-100 people in the facility at any given time. 

Given the increase in Teton County population and in climbing’s popularity, demand today is higher than it was ten years ago.

Smaller but similar to Jackson, Canada’s premier mountaineering town, Canmore, has a population of 13,992. Its gym, Elevation Place, which opened in 2013 as part of the community’s rec center, offers 11,000 square feet of climbing surface. Because it’s in a community center, Elevation Place has thousands of members. 

“We should have made our gym bigger because there’s always a wait list,” said Brian Spear, the Climbing Coordinator for the Town of Canmore.  

“It’s too busy for a positive experience, so we make them wait. People who work M-F 9-5 are always on the waitlist.”

Other takeaways from the TCC’s research were as follows:

  • Climbing gym consultants should be retained as early as possible to create positive user experience, optimize ROI, minimize cost overruns and delays and ensure the gym meets current and future community needs. 
  • A good climbing gym will generate revenue that can support other Parks and Recreation programs and amenities
    • The Enclosure Climbing Gym generated $500,000-700,000/year in revenue
    • Canmore’s Elevation Place community climbing center generates $100,000 in shoe and harness rentals alone
  • Because of the impact chalk can have on air quality throughout a rec center, HVAC that addresses chalk filtration and temperature destratification should be planned into the initial building design

The research also underscored the opportunity to provide a safe, healthy venue for local youth, change the cultural narrative for Jackson’s Latino population and enhance safety for guides, rangers, Search and Rescue and regular climbers alike.

The research was shared with Teton County Parks and Recreation in early March, and with Jackson and Teton County elected officials in April.

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