What: American Bouldering Series nationals
When: Adult comp Feb. 11 and 12; juniors Feb. 18 to 20
Where: 3550 Frontier Ave., Unit C, Boulder
More info: absnationals.org
The national championships for the American Bouldering Series are usually held at a climbing gym, like Boulder’s Spot gym, which has hosted the competition four times. But this year, USA Climbing is creating a competition facility from scratch for the nationals, which are later this month.
This week, Vertical Solutions, a wall design company based in Salt Lake City, is building three freestanding portable walls in a warehouse space at 3550 Frontier Ave.
The new walls are 25 feet wide, have a maximum height of 22 feet and are geared toward professional-level bouldering, said Kynan Waggoner, director of operations for USA Climbing, which is based in Boulder and is a governing body for competitive climbing, including the ABS.
They hope to accommodate 1,500 people — both climbers and spectators — in the space, he said.
“It’s basically a shell of a warehouse that we’re trying to turn into a competition venue,” Waggoner said.
Moving big competitions out of gyms “is the way to go,” said Andrew Clinkingbeard, events coordinator for the Spot and co-founder of Gravity Assassin Productions, which put on the Battle in the Bubble bouldering competition outdoors, at the Boulder Reservoir (on walls which are now in the Spot), last year.
“It’s growing the sport,” he said. “People will be able to see people climbing on the problems, instead of trying to cram 1,000 people into the Spot.”
One of the challenges of using climbing gyms for competitions — especially a big event like the national championships — is that they’re not built for accommodating the growing crowds of spectators, Waggoner said.
“There’s just not that much room,” he said. “Movement (Climbing and Fitness) is definitely the exception to that in this country in that they’ve built in the stadium seating.”
“But as these events get bigger, from our perspective, we need more leeway on an operational level,” he said.
Movement Climbing and Fitness will host the citizens competition for the ABS nationals and provide a place for the rest of the competitors to warm up before heading to the competition facility on Frontier Ave.
Anne Worley Moelter, manager of Movement, said one of the reasons they wanted their stadium seating — which seats 450 people — was to host big events, including competitions, and it’s been worth it.
“In a nutshell, if I had to do it over again, I would absolutely 100 percent do it the same way,” she said.
But as Waggoner said, Movement may be the exception. Clinkingbeard said that from a business perspective, it’s hard to dedicate space to competitions.
“It doesn’t bring a lot of revenue in,” he said. “It’s hard to sacrifice a large space in your business for non-climbing.”
Another problem this eliminates is that comps typically shut down a gym’s regular business for several days for route-setting before the competition begins, Waggoner said.
USA Climbing pays facilities to cover the revenue loss, but it’s been tough to close to paying members for five or six days in the past, Clinkingbeard said.
With most of the competition for the ABS nationals happening at the facility on Frontier Avenue, Movement won’t have to close its climbing area to members for long.
“Especially if the weather is bad, we’re very aware that we may be turning away revenue,” Moelter said. “But we think it’s a better experience for everybody. There’s only four or five days out of the calendar year that the climbing is closed.”
The new walls are portable and won’t stay put in Boulder. Though they’re debuting at the ABS nationals here, they’ll be used for the Unified Bouldering Championships series, Waggoner said.
“This wall’s going to travel,” he said. “I believe the next time this wall will be used is in (New York’s) Central Park in June.”