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Just Tooling Around

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The first indoor climbing gym in the United States opened its doors in 1987. A little over 30 years later, gym climbing has skyrocketed in popularity. Now, another genre of climbing is getting in on the action. The Ice Coop, the first dedicated commercial dry-tooling gym, in Boulder, Colorado, wants to see the sport grow through indoor facilities, too.

Sam Sala gets crafty on the Ice Coop’s suspended box.

Sally Gilman, co-owner with her husband, Colby Rickard—of the climbing shoe resoler Rock and Resole—came up with the idea for the Ice Coop during a trip to the Ouray Ice Park. When the space behind Rock and Resole’s Boulder retail location became available last year, Gilman and Rickard moved in and started construction on what would become a resource for all ice climbers and dry-tooling aficionados, from kids trying the sport for the first time to professionals on the USA Ice Climbing Team.

“Rock climbers that I would talk to about this idea would be like, ‘Oh, you’re crazy,’” Gilman said. “Nobody understood what this was about, and I kept telling people it’s like the very first indoor climbing gym. This is how this whole thing starts.”

It was only seven years ago when Marcus Garcia, of Durango, Colorado, dedicated a portion of his indoor gym specifically for dry tooling. Garcia, an athlete on the men’s USA World Cup Ice team, has since started USA’s youth mixed-climbing team. Other gyms like CityROCK, in Colorado Springs, or Petra Cliffs Climbing Center and Moutaineering School, in Vermont, allow drytooling in parts of their gym as well.

Katie Seymour masters the figure-four.

Interest in ice climbing and dry tooling has been growing in the United States. According to SNEWS, the Ice Climbing World Cup held in downtown Denver in February of 2018 attracted a crowd of more than 25,000 people and a live-stream audience of hundreds of thousands of viewers. It was one of the largest live ice-climbing events of all time.

However, competition “ice climbing” is sort of a misnomer. “There’s not a lot of actual ice climbing involved,” said Lindsay Hasings, USA Ice Climbing Team athlete.

A pure ice route would be too easy for the world’s best competitors, so towers are built out of overhanging plywood walls and hanging blocks of wood suspended over thin air and bolted with ice-climbing-specific holds. From a distance, some of the competition holds appear to be regular rock climbing holds, but they have inset metal plates with small dimples in which climbers must precisely place their picks. Instead of using foot holds, competitors wear crampons and kick directly into the plywood walls. The movements often involve big dynos and balancy transitions.

Before the Ice Coop opened, Hastings trained on a small wall she built out of plywood in her yard. Other than her homemade wall, there weren’t any good training options.

“The biggest crux is that at these competitions, you’re kicking into plywood,” Hastings said. “And without a facility to do that, we just had such a disadvantage. Russia and Korea and these countries that are always topping the podium, they have permanent structures to train on.”

It was trial by fire when Hastings started competing. “The first time I’d ever really kicked into plywood was at my first World Cup,” she said.

For Gilman, creation of the Ice Coop was all about stewardship and not about business. “Let’s have a place for people to train … [and] for people who have their heart in this sport to get together,” she said. “This is not a money-making venture by any means.”

Hastings thinks facilities like the Ice Coop will bring more attention to ice climbing.

Gilman is on the same page. “There are so many rock gyms and there are so many ways for people to get introduced to rock climbing,” she said. “It just created this whole industry that’s really strong, and ice climbing doesn’t have that…It’s a really tough sport to break into.” Hopefully, that will soon change.

All pictures by Dawn Seymour. Feature image of Corey Buhay, USA Ice Climbing Team member.

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