Mountain Climbing: In Aspen, Colo., a Community Embraces Climbing and Makes It Part of Daily Life

By Spaulding, Sally | Parks & Recreation, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Mountain Climbing: In Aspen, Colo., a Community Embraces Climbing and Makes It Part of Daily Life


Spaulding, Sally, Parks & Recreation


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At first glance, it may seem superfluous to have two indoor climbing areas in the city of Aspen, a community of just 5,000 residents surrounded by some of Colorado's best natural climbing spots.

"We have a lot of easy access to real rocks here in Aspen," says Aspen Recreation Center Director Tim Anderson. "But in the mountains, educating people on proper climbing techniques is a life-saving skill, not just a sport."

That's why a robust climbing program involving two climbing walls, public parks and recreation, local schools, nonprofit organizations, a variety of indoor and outdoor climbing courses, and a team of 15 climbing instructors has grown across the past decade or so in Aspen.

In 1992, the city of Aspen purchased an old school, the Red Brick Elementary School, and started converting it into an arts and recreation center. The facility became a gymnastics and climbing space, with a full 3,200 square feet of climbing and bouldering facilities.

Ground Level

Climbers originally approached the city with the idea of putting the climbing wall where the gymnasium stage was previously located. Through private donations and the use of state lottery dollars, they found the funds to make it a reality. The local climbers also provided all the labor and design work.

"It was truly a grassroots effort for that wall to be built," says Bob Sharp, an Aspen architect and climber who devoted hours to the project by fundraising, painting, and assembling the wall. Even though Sharp has two climbing walls at home, he still frequents the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center, which locals refer to as the Red Brick, and even substitute teaches there. He still finds some of the routes challenging and has nothing but the highest praise for the wall's quality construction.

"The wall was incredibly over-engineered," he says. "You could hang a truck off the bolts in that ceiling."

Today it's not uncommon to find seasoned climbers such as Sharp at the Red Brick staying in shape in the winter or squeezing in a workout on their lunch break during the warmer months. The space hosts everything from beginner to accomplished climbers in a recreational setting.

Because of the shared space with the gymnastics program, the wall is always high energy--complete with giggling kids, music, and the occasional grunts and groans from climbers as they tackle a route.

"This place can be pretty loud and crazy, but that's what makes it fun," says lead climbing instructor Jeremy Graham.

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Graham can usually be found at the Red Brick Recreation Center teaching children as young as 4 the basics of climbing.

He wants kids and adults to safely and properly learn to climb, and views the gym as a gathering spot for a community of climbers. The Red Brick, he says, is a place to get people excited about the sport of climbing.

"There's a big skiing and mountain-biking community in Aspen, but climbing is still growing here," says Graham. "I think of climbing like snowboarding was 15 years ago; in a few more years, climbing is going to be a health and fitness industry standard."

Climbing is certainly growing in popularity in Aspen, partly because of the variety of courses the city offers. Programming options include Junior Rock Rats (ages 4 and 5), Rock Rats Climbing (ages 6 and older), and beginner and intermediate classes, Boulder Rats, and Aspen Recreation Outdoor Climbing Klub, or AROCK, a top-rope climbing course in an outdoor setting for kids ages 8 to 18. Private lessons are also available.

But the Red Brick isn't the only space for indoor climbing in Aspen--and it's certainly not the flashiest. …

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