Although climbing’s Olympic debut has been postponed, North Lake Tahoe senders and ascenders are looking forward to Truckee’s newest architectural addition.
The owner of High Altitude Fitness, in Incline Village, broke ground this week on another climbing gym and comprehensive exercise facility on Donner Pass Road, across from Truckee High School.
Jason Burd, High Altitude Fitness’s owner, said he is particularly excited about the facility’s size — 26,000 square feet — because he hopes the gym functions similar to a community center.
“I’m building this for all kinds of mountain athlete families,” Burd said.
Burd tore out racquetball courts 14 years ago to begin construction of his first climbing facility in Incline Village.
“At the time, people thought I was nuts for getting rid of racquetball courts, then after three or four years I started getting a little busy and started looking to build another facility,” Burd said.
Burd started looking at available properties in Truckee six years ago.
“What we lack here in Incline is a functional fitness space, and I’ll be offering that at the Truckee facility,” Burd said.
The Incline location services a town of 8,000 people, and has over 1,000 members. Burd said he anticipates the project will be worth the $12 million borrowed if that same interest is shared in Truckee.
“Bouldering in particular is blowing up,” Burd said, of the success of indoor climbing gyms amidst a place rich in granite.
Jason Kehl, a pro-climber from Texas who helped design the new facility’s wall, said a successful climbing gym ought to welcome everyone.
“I make sure all the angles are represented throughout the gym,” Kehl said.
A multi-angled space encourages amateurs and challenges experts with bulges or varied steepness, Kehl explained.
Besides a comprehensive workout facility with state-of-the-art equipment, the new location will have a hydraulic wall, 50-foot sport climbing walls, and 15-foot bouldering walls on the second floor, Kehl said.
Burd said although Tahoe is littered with climbable boulders, gyms offer athletes and hobbyists access to problem solving and fitness regardless of the weather or work schedule.
“I’m a climber, that’s why I did this,” Burd said. “My wife would rather rope up, but roping up is an all-day event.”
Burd said accessibility is particularly important in a mountain town, where patrons may be limited by cash flow and an “irregular” work schedule.
“I’m building a facility for the mountain athlete for mountain culture; it’s not a typical gym,” Burd said.
‘THE STRONGER YOU ARE’
Unlike nearly every other climbing gym in the state, High Altitude Fitness does not have an initiation fee. Burd offers a prime time pass for $39 a month that grants members constrained by late shifts access between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“I did that because a lot of people work in restaurants in the evenings and could afford that,” Burd said. “I lived here, I know what it’s like to be in a ski town.”
Kehl said he knows Burd is particularly interested in making children’s programming available and will offer gym patron’s on education on not just climbing safety, but it’s no-trace culture.
“He knows Tahoe is an amazing climbing area — it’s some of my favorite granite for sure — but it’s not just having access to a climbing gym, it’s being able to teach people how to act outside,” Kehl said. “A lot of people don’t have access to that.”
Michael Eadington, an artist and local who has climbed in and around Tahoe for 30 years, said he is looking forward to seeing the talent and personalities that comes from a kid’s climbing team in Truckee. Eadington said children have grown stronger since he was a child because of how climbing gyms bridge the outdoor seasons.
“You can see that through a lot of the climbers a Jason trained out of Incline,” Eadington said. “Stefan Fellner is ranked. Tahoe kids take it to the next level.”
Eadington, who runs art galleries in North Lake Tahoe, said climbing helped keep him out of trouble as a child.
“The stronger you are, the more you want to be healthy and climb better,” Eadington said. “With less partying and a little more focus in there, you’re rewarded for being good.”
Eadington said the activity offers a great rewards system, one that exercises focus and manages risk to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Burd said once the facility opens in 10 months, he will hire 30-40 staff.
Rebecca O’Neil is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to the Sierra Sun.