Bouldering is back in the Foothills for the first time since spring.
WIP Climbing Okotoks held its grand opening on Oct. 10 at its Warner Park facility in the Aldersyde area, the former site of Big Rock Bouldering which shut its doors for good due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We knew this area had a really good climbing community previous to COVID,” said WIP Climbing Okotoks co-owner Josh Muller. “People were really positive about it and loved it and we knew we could bring it back and try and offer that same thing to them.
“And me growing up in this area too, it’s close to my heart and we felt it was a really good opportunity for us.”
Previous owners Chris and Vanessa Kershaw built a strong climbing community in the Foothills since Big Rock opened its doors in late-2016 before the pandemic reared its ugly head.
“Chris and Vanessa, they did a fantastic job and poured their heart and soul into it, created a really great community, great atmosphere and I can only imagine the challenges they went through to lose their business,” Muller added. “We wanted to honour and respect their work and their creation.”
WIP Climbing Okotoks co-owner Christiaan de Vries echoed the sentiment.
“It’s a massive risk to go into a small community like this and build something like this,” he said. “And they did that and they were successful and then the shutdown happened and they just couldn’t see a way out the other side. They’re a victim of the pandemic, really, so we’re just happy we can still provide a place for that community to come and climb. We really didn’t want to see that community get abandoned.”
Muller knows the community intimately.
Born in Black Diamond, he lived in the High Country and graduated from Oilfields High School in 2004. His father Mark owns Country Food Mart AG Foods in Black Diamond.
“I lived there most of my life and moved to Calgary for university and stayed in Calgary,” he said.
One of the top rock climbers in the country, the 34-year-old has coached members of Team Canada at both the youth and adult level. He runs the Bolder Climbing Community with his wife Regan, the first bouldering specific gym in Calgary.
de Vries also owns the Gneiss Climbing gym in Kelowna and along with Muller opened the first WIP Climbing facility in picturesque Courtenay, on Vancouver Island one year ago.
Their success in a similar sized market gave them the confidence to go ahead with launching another location in the Okotoks area.
“It really was our experience on the north island,” de Vries said. “Courtenay is a town of similar size to Okotoks, the demographic isn’t all that different as far as your range from older to young families.
“We actually had a lot of confidence going into a market like that and having success. It’s a little bit of a template we think works.”
Given all their experience, the co-owners have learned a thing or two about operating a gym during a pandemic.
“Communication and being as transparent as possible is key, having your policies up front with COVID so people can read about them and either have questions or be comfortable,” de Vries said. “For this year, we’re going to do it with masks, that’s what Josh experienced success with in Calgary.
“Here, because it’s a smaller space and if we want to be successful we still need bodies, people to come, so the idea is with the mask it allows us to allow a little bit more people in.”
Muller said those in the climbing community are well-versed in risk mitigation.
“Us in the industry are very in-tune with assessing risk,” he said. “Our entire business revolves around mitigating risk, whether it’s COVID risk or falling and hurting your ankle risk.”
WIP will feature some intro programming along with memberships, drop ins and group bookings in the initial stages.
“We’re going to listen to the market, see what people are interested in and act accordingly,” Muller said. “We have some of the best coaches in the country at our disposal in Calgary so we’re confident we can pretty much implement whatever program necessary that the market wants.”
For more information go to WIPCclimbing.com/Okotoks