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Climbing Gyms Finding Bigger Footholds in Denver

The  main feature of Movement is its immense wall, which resembles that of a canyon.

Movement also has bouldering, weight and exercise facilities.

In Baker, Movement represents the most recent evolution in Denver's climbing gyms.

The routes at Movement are changed frequently.

Movement opened on 12/13/14.

  Thrillseekers is a different beast than Movement. Its artificially lit white and orange walls are more cave-like.

The floor at Thrillseekers is softened by shredded soles (Smith says the gym bought them from Teva to help pad the floor from falls).

Thrillseekers has been around for more than two decades.

At climbing gyms like Movement and Thrillseekers, the walls are continuously changing.

In Baker, the 32,000-square-foot Movement represents the most recent evolution in Denver's climbing gyms. Opening in 1992, Thrillseekers on South Broadway is the oldest and still evolving to meet clients' needs.
Denver has had climbing gyms for well over 20 years, but when the cavernous Movement opened up late last year, it heralded the arrival of a new breed of massive climbing gyms to the city. At 12,0000 square feet, Thrillseekers was once considered a large climbing gym, but now it's mid-sized.

Movement might be located in a nondescript grey building under the 6th Avenue viaduct, but people are flocking to its walls. On a midweek afternoon, easily 35 people are chasing routes up the grey walls and simulated boulders plastered with brightly colored holds.

Not bad for a facility that opened last winter on "12/13/14," says co-founder and owner Mike Moelter. He founded the gym with his wife Anne-Worley.

It was supposed to open in October but was classified by the city as an atrium, which required a more advanced ventilation system and delayed the gym's opening, he explains.

The  main feature of the facility is its immense wall, which resembles that of an actual canyon. Movement also has bouldering, weight and exercise facilities and "offers yoga, mat pilates, cycling yoga, traditional fitness, personal training and personal coaching," Moelter says.

The late opening didn't stymie people's demand: Movement's classes are packed. "I know Monday night we had a yoga class with 40 people," Moelter says. "We have about 35 classes daily, we've built up to that," he says. "I think by this fall we'll be up to 50 daily classes." He anticipates that the gym will see between 600 and 1,000 sign-ins per day as membership continues to grow.

It's the second Movement gym they have opened. Their first was a 22,000-square-foot gym in Boulder. "I think the sweet spot in Boulder would have been 28,000 square feet," Moelter says. However, they were limited by available real estate in Boulder.

Through the Boulder facility, the Moelters gained experience. "We knew if we could make Boulder successful we wanted to open one up in Denver," Moelter says. "If you look at Boulder, which has a similar lifestyle, it has four commercial facilities. So if you're comparing the two it looks like Denver is underserved. But that's not necessarily what we looked at. We wanted to provide a service that we think currently wasn't being offered. For us that's a combination of climbing and fitness."

With only Thrillseekers and Denver Bouldering Club's two locations in the city as competition, Movement's opening isn't fazing Thrillseekers owner Kevin Smith. "It's not like there's a finite number of climbers and everyone is stealing from one another," he says. "New people are always entering the sport. We're a country of 300 million plus people who are always looking for new and interesting ways to spend time."

Smith adds that he's seen other rock gyms open in Denver in his more than two decades on South Broadway in former movie theater that is Thrillseekers. New gyms may get people into climbing for the first time. "They might want an introductory lesson and want to climb, but you get people into the sport that aren't into it already. After three months or so, they go, 'This is really cool, I wonder where else I can do this.'" That's when the new climbers will seek out other gyms like Thrillseekers, Smith contends.  

Thrillseekers is a different beast than Movement. Its artificially lit white and orange walls are more cave-like. The floor is softened by shredded soles (Smith says the gym bought them from Teva to help pad the floor from falls). It feels more densely packed, more focused. "We have weight stuff and stretching and aerobic stuff, but we're a climbing gym," Smith asserts.

Building legaciesAt climbing gyms like Movement and Thrillseekers, the walls are continuously changing.

As Denver's oldest climbing gym, Thrillseekers has also had an opportunity no other gyms in the area have. "We've seen people that learn to tie in and belay go away and and raise a family and come back and now their kids climb here. Now some of them have grandkids that climb here," Smith says.

Climbing gyms like Thrillseekers can offer more personalized service than a large climbing gyms, Smith contends. "We tend to know everybody by name if not on the first visit, by the third visit. It tends to breed a longer-term customer." He says clients range from kids (the youngest unsupervised age is 12) and CU Denver students to an 85-year-old who's climbed at the gym for 15 years.

It's a similar ethos that's helping drive growth at Movement. "We're opening gyms to build community and that really takes a lot of effort, tact and patience," Moelter says.

Movement is attracting a wide range of climbers, according to Moelter. From beginners to professionals using the walls to train. "We see the whole spectrum," he says. "The majority is what I would call 'lifestyle' and that's our target. That's who we cater best too." He adds that the majority of gym members aren't from Colorado. "That's true with our staff, too," he says. "Colorado is definitely very destination-based."

Moelter explains that such climbers usually climb in the gym two to three days a week and outside at least two days a month. "I think we're introducing people into it but what we're really doing is reintroducing and establishing them as climbers. We classify a climber as anyone who has purchased a significant piece of climbing equipment, like a rope harness or shoes."

An emphasis on newIn Baker, Movement represents the most recent evolution in Denver's climbing gyms.

One of the most important things for climbers is to keep it fresh. Climbers want a challenge and a route that stays the same will soon fail to keep their interest. That's why at climbing gyms like Movement and Thrillseekers, the walls are continuously changing.

"Monday is when we scrub and clean a wall," Smith says. "Every time we strip a wall we repaint it." The gym allows the wall to dry for a day and then bolts on new holds and volumes. The volumes are blocks that can change the physical features of the wall.

Movement aims to change all of its routes every eight weeks, according to Moelter. The Denver facility has a cherry picker, allowing the gym's route setters quick access to the holds. A new route can be set in about three to four hours.

With more people than ever in the Denver region Moelter sees more opportunity. "I think there are a ton of climbers in the region." Movement could open another one ore two facilities, he says. "If all goes well maybe we'll start looking this fall for another space in Denver."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Chris Meehan.

Chris is a Denver-based freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. He covers sustainability, social issues and other topics.
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