In Europe, climbing gyms have a different feel than they do in the U.S. — more like social gathering spots for fitness-focused friends. A Scandinavian climbing gym company called Moments Climbing is expanding to North America and hoping to bring that European climbing vibe to Lawrenceville with Iron City Boulders.
“If you go into a gym in Europe, you have a shot of espresso when you come in, you climb for a few hours, then friends have beers afterward,” says Moments Climbing Vice President Dean Privett. “We’re trying to have that sort of feel to our facilities as well.
“We plan to have a full-service coffee bar, an espresso bar,” he adds. “And then our location lends us to having our patrons go out and have a beer.”
Iron City Boulders is moving to the 27,000-square-foot space at the Goodwill-owned business center at 51st Street in Lawrenceville, within walking distance of plenty of bars and breweries. It will exclusively feature bouldering, so no ropes and harnesses are necessary. There will be 11,000 square feet of bouldering walls, and more than 250 different boulder “problems” for all skill levels to solve, that will rotate frequently.
The goal is to make climbing accessible to everyone. Color-coded routes will be arranged alongside similar levels of difficulty, so it’s easy to figure out where to start.
Iron City Boulders will also feature a range of fitness, weight training and cardio equipment, along with locker rooms with showers, free Wi-Fi and working space. The location has 150-plus free parking spaces.
The pandemic set back construction a bit, and now they’re hoping to open in January. The large size of the space is a plus for social distancing, Privett notes.
There’s an art to route setting and arranging the handholds, he says. “We’re certainly trying to have a more European-influenced route setting style,” he says. “That caters a bit more to balance and problem-solving rather than physical strength. Our walls are probably the least steep walls in the country.”
Privett grew up near Pittsburgh and went to Pitt.
“When I was a senior, I took a one-credit rock climbing class there,” says Privett. “That somehow went on to define my career.”
He has worked at a number of the country’s bigger climbing gyms and has been hoping to bring one to Pittsburgh for 11 years.
“I was the head of sales for a company called Walltopia, which is based in Pittsburgh and builds climbing walls,” says Privett. “I was the main point of contact for anybody in the country looking to build a climbing gym. In my time there, I helped build over 100 climbing gyms. And the biggest hurdle is real estate. Finding a building of that size that is affordable, and in the right zoning, is really hard to come by.”
The appeal of climbing is partially exercise, and partially the community that develops around it. When solving the “problems,” it’s easy to ask for help or offer it.
“It’s different than traditional sports in that it’s not a you-versus-them sport,” says Privett. “It’s kind of a you-versus-the-wall. Everybody who’s in there climbing is kind of rooting for everybody else. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if a crowd of people watches you and sees you achieve this climb, and know that you tried really hard to do it, people literally clap and cheer for each other. It’s a very positive, reinforcing atmosphere.”
The company is also planning to open a location in Orlando.