Climbing Cooperative Opens Gym in Downtown Duluth – Duluth News Tribune | Gmx Pharm

DULUTH — Last month, in a storefront beneath Flame Nightclub downtown, Shannon Ball pulled herself up against a wall, let go, and landed on a thick mat underneath.

Ball had just become a member of the Duluth Climbing and Fitness Co-op, which opened its gym at 22 N. First Ave. W opened. Most recently a kettlebell gym, the space is now taken up by a plywood wall that juts out from one side of the room at various angles with colorful hand and foot grips attached.

Shannon Ball of Duluth looks for her next stop at the Duluth Climbing and Fitness Co-op on Wednesday.

Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune

The wall is intended for bouldering, a type of rock climbing that does not require ropes as the wall itself is not very high and there is a thick cushion underneath to break your fall.

Ball said other gyms focus on top-rope routes with smaller boulder walls tucked into the side after the fact. This is the priority for the cooperative.

And bouldering is “more accessible,” Ball said, because she can do it alone, while top-rope routes require a belay partner to hold the rope. She is happy to have the new place.

People using indoor climbing wall

Shannon Ball, from Duluth, falls off the bouldering wall at the Duluth Climbing and Fitness Co-op on Wednesday.

Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune

People using indoor climbing wall

Alex Ristow, right, facilities director at the Duluth Climbing and Fitness Co-op, speaks with Mikayla Haynes, social media and marketing director, on Wednesday.

Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune

“I think it’s pretty cool that the Duluth community got together to make this happen,” Ball said.

Although there have been discussions about such a group and space for the past decade, it picked up steam about three years ago.

Alex Ristow, the co-op’s head of facilities, said getting to where the co-op is today has meant fundraising and matching loans and donations from members. “We might have had to be a little scrappy,” he said.

After raising enough funds to get the space, the cooperative opened member loans to help build the wall. The cooperative plans to repay these loans after the second year.

Board members said they tried to include membership dues on everything from the price of memberships to the design of the bouldering wall and the holds used on the wall.

“You made that contribution,” said Jennifer Krussow, membership coordinator. “A lot of them are super invested and wanted a space for themselves.”

People using indoor climbing wall

Alex Ristow, facilities director for the Duluth Climbing and Fitness Co-op, speaks Wednesday about the construction of the bouldering wall.

Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune

As of July, the cooperative had nearly 100 members who pay a one-time fee of $5 for lifetime membership; About 50 of them paid $400 a year for 24/7 access passes.

Although bouldering can be a solo activity, it can also be incredibly social. Bouldering is usually short but intense effort with long breaks between climbs.

“Boulderers are there to climb, but also to hang out,” said Krussow. “You need some recovery time, probably some snacks and drinks in between.”

Ristow said bouldering “just makes it easier for people to get to know each other.”

People using indoor climbing wall

A collection of climbing holds featured on the Bouldering Wall at the Duluth Climbing and Fitness Co-op on Wednesday.

Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune

And the co-op really wants to build and nurture the area’s climbing community. In addition to the gym, the co-op hopes to host events for members like movie nights or events where the public can come in and climb.

And they’re not limited to the gym they’ve built. They want to organize groups who dare to try outdoor climbing in the area. They have already guided an excursion to climb Palisade Head on Lake Superior’s north shore.

Mikayla Haynes, director of social media and marketing, said she’s noticed that climbers in Duluth generally stay in small circles, and she hopes the co-op can bring those circles together and build a larger community.

The cooperative and the gym have no employees – all work on a voluntary basis. And if they make a profit, it would either go to the members or be invested in the gym.

“I feel like some people are like, ‘Oh, they made this happen, they have to get something out of it,'” Haynes said. “We say, ‘We just want to see it happen. We want to be here too.”

People using indoor climbing wall

A sloping climbing wall at the Duluth Climbing and Fitness Co-op on Wednesday.

Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune

It also means that members are more involved in the process. Board members hope members with technical experience can manage the site and that some can even help clean the gym on a rotating schedule.

“They’re members, they’re part of the community, they see some kind of need that they can fill for us, and they’re self-administering, which is really great,” Haynes said.

The board members say that although it’s now a bouldering wall, they could envision one day taking over a space with a higher ceiling to get some top rope routes.

“Our primary financial goal is to make it — to pay our borrowers back,” Ristow said. “Then it might get bigger in a few years.”

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