2021 CBJ Gym List Awards

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2021 Gym List Awards
2021 Gym List Awards
Image by Logan Gully, courtesy Stone Co. Climbing

If there’s one figure that stands out from this year’s Gyms & Trends report it’s the fact that more new climbing gyms opened in the United States in 2021 (53) than any prior calendar year. But the whole is always comprised of its parts, and every new climbing gym project last year―and the groups of professionals whose hard work propelled them forward―contributed to that impressive total and has a unique story. That’s why each year we celebrate a few of those gym projects that stood out from the rest―whether the largest new bouldering gym with the most climbing surface or the family of gyms which added the most new locations―and this year we’re handing out brand-new awards for climbing gym manufacturers as well: Wall Builder of the Year, Floor Installer of the Year, and Climbing Gym Management Software of the Year. Their stories encompass cross country expansion into competitive markets, reimagination of 100-year-old spaces, in-house gym creation, AI experimentation, and overcoming change during a pandemic year.

 

Without further ado, below are the gym and brand winners of CBJ’s 2021 Gym List Awards, and for more gym data and industry developments be sure to read this year’s Gyms & Trends report:

Pacific Pipe Largest New Climbing Gym 2021
Pacific Pipe
Oakland, CA

Based on square feet of climbing surface, Touchstone Pacific Pipe was North America’s largest new climbing gym of 2021, with 46,000 square feet of wall terrain. Early in 2019, Touchstone announced they were planning “the largest climbing gym in the East Bay,” with a floor plan of 55,500 square feet. This was more than double the size of the floor plan for Touchstone’s nearby Berkeley Ironworks gym―considered the largest in the East Bay at the time―and twice the climbing wall surface of Touchstone Mission Cliffs, San Francisco’s oldest climbing gym. With lead walls reaching 55 feet and 33,000 square feet of roped climbing alone, Pacific Pipe takes the Touchstone name to a new level and brings the gym chain’s total number of locations to 14.

Besides top rope and lead climbing, Pacific Pipe offers 13,000 square feet of bouldering, Tension and Moon Boards, and a full lineup of fitness options in the two-story facility. The vibrantly colored climbing walls and fitness amenities are a big change of pace for the building, which previously served as a manufacturing warehouse in the 1920s before sitting vacant for decades and being converted into a full-service climbing gym. According to Touchstone’s website, we can soon expect a Kilter Board, Touchstone Board, sauna and pro shop too.

“We’ll be creating a cutting-edge gym for climbers and non-climbers alike, and we can’t wait to provide programs that will serve our neighborhood to the fullest,” Marketing Director Heather Bellgreen said at the project’s outset. Looks like they are on track to do exactly that.

Top Ten Largest New Climbing Gyms of 2021
(based on total climbing wall surface)

1st: Pacific Pipe – Oakland, CA – 46000 sqft
2nd: Movement Lincoln Park – Chicago, IL – 43000 sqft
3rd: Alchemy Climbing – Tallahassee, FL – 20000 sqft
4th (tie): Gravity Vault Marin County – San Rafael, CA – 18000 sqft
4th (tie): Contact Climbing Gym – St. George, UT – 18000 sqft
6th: DYNO Detroit – Detroit, MI – 17000 sqft
7th: Alpine Climbing Adventure Fitness – Ripon, CA – 16500 sqft
8th: Ubergrippen Climbing Crag – Castle Rock, CO – 16000 sqft
9th: High Altitude Fitness – Truckee, CA – 12000 sqft
10th: BlocHaven – Greenvillle, SC – 11247 sqft

Vital Brooklyn
Photo by Madeleine Chan Stanley

Largest New Bouldering Gym 2021
VITAL Brooklyn
Brooklyn, NY

The award for largest new bouldering gym of 2021 goes to VITAL’s first East Coast gym, VITAL Brooklyn, with 18,633 square feet of climbing surface. It was a tight race this year, with only 633 square feet separating VITAL Brooklyn from runner-up North Mass Bouldering (18,000 square feet of climbing) in Indianapolis. Originally based on the West Coast, VITAL marched onto the New York market in 2021, opening VITAL Brooklyn and acquiring the two Steep Rock Bouldering gyms in Manhattan later in the year. Now up to 7 locations in the gym chain, VITAL Brooklyn stands out with rooftop climbing and a vast space for bouldering and fitness classes (including aerial silks and cycling), in addition to 24/7 gym access like other VITAL gyms.

“After we opened our gym in Oceanside, California, we were traveling around to markets all around the country, visiting different places. New York City—and Brooklyn, in particular—was just such a fun and interesting, vibrant area,” Sacher told CBJ in an interview last year. “…Being centrally located within a community we found is a really positive thing to try and do. And here in Brooklyn is a unique place because a large industrial building that can house a gym isn’t located out by the freeway; it’s located right in the thick of it where everybody is eating and playing, working and living. So, it was a perfect fit for us.”

Top Ten Largest New Bouldering Gyms of 2021
(based on total climbing wall surface)

1st: Vital Brooklyn – Brooklyn, NY – 18633 sqft
2nd: North Mass Bouldering – Indianapolis, IN – 18000 sqft
3rd: Gravity Vault Montclair – Montclair, NJ – 12000 sqft
4th (tie): The Spot Golden – Golden, CO – 11000 sqft
4th (tie): Movement Wrigleyville – Chicago, IL – 11000 sqft
4th (tie): Iron City Boulders – Pittsburgh, PA – 11000 sqft
7th (tie): Alta Boulders – Chandler, AZ – 10000 sqft
7th (tie): Brooklyn Boulders Eckington – Washington, DC – 10000 sqft
7th (tie): MetroRock Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY – 10000 sqft
10th: Seattle Bouldering Project Fremont – Seattle, WA – 9464 sqft

Movement Lincoln Park

Tallest New Climbing Gym 2021
Movement Lincoln Park
Chicago, IL

The award for tallest new climbing gym of 2021 was another photo finish, with Movement Lincoln Park edging out California-based Touchstone Pacific Pipe and Alpine Climbing Adventure Fitness―both 55 feet tall―by just one foot. At Lincoln Park, climbers can go on four-story sport climbs up 56-foot climbing walls. In total, Movement’s newest gym in Chicago offers an impressive 43,000 square feet of roped climbing and bouldering terrain, establishing itself as not only the tallest new climbing gym of 2021 but the second largest new climbing gym as well. The new facility also owns a soundproof yoga studio, several lounge areas, a gear shop, and a floor dedicated to cardio and weightlifting equipment―all designed to complement the area’s “active urban lifestyle,” according to the gym’s grand opening announcement.

“We look for big population centers in up-and-coming neighborhoods where we feel there is opportunity to positively impact the community,” Charlotte Bosley, Movement’s Chief Marketing Officer, revealed to CBJ. “We also consider if there is room in the market to bring our unique offering of climbing, fitness, and yoga. Dallas and Chicago fit this and they also have a population with a desire to explore new adventures and try new things.”

Top Ten Tallest New Climbing Gyms of 2021
(based on peak indoor climbing wall height)

1st: Movement Lincoln Park – Chicago, IL – 56 ft
2nd (tie): Pacific Pipe – Oakland, CA – 55 ft
2nd (tie): Alpine Climbing Adventure Fitness – Ripon, CA – 55 ft
4th (tie): High Altitude Fitness – Truckee, CA – 50 ft
4th (tie): Contact Climbing Gym – St. George, UT – 50 ft
6th (tie): Ubergrippen Climbing Crag – Castle Rock, CO – 47 ft
6th (tie): DYNO Detroit – Detroit, MI – 47 ft
8th: Boiler Room – Kingston, ON – 43 ft
9th: ELEV8 Climbing Gym – Traverse City, MI – 42 ft
10th: Gravity Vault Marin County – San Rafael, CA – 40 ft

Movement Climbing Yoga Fitness

Developer of the Year 2021
Movement Climbing Yoga Fitness

Opening one gym during a pandemic year is a feat in and of itself, but opening three separate facilities across the U.S. is even more remarkable. 47% of new climbing gyms in North America last year were expansion gyms, but El Cap – Movement was one of only two developers to open three new locations. In total, Movement added over 60,000 square feet of climbing surface across its three new gyms: Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park in Chicago, and The Hill in Dallas.

Movement has come a long way since Mike and Anne-Worley Moelter founded their first gym in Boulder in 2009. After opening a climbing gym during peak growth years for the industry in the climber’s state of Colorado, the Moelters experienced almost immediate success. This prompted their decision to open two new Movement gyms in Denver, in 2014 and 2018. Soon after the 2018 opening, El Cap acquired Movement from the Moelters, expanding its gym network―which already included the Earth Treks and Planet Granite gyms on the East and West Coasts―to the Rocky Mountain region.

Besides announcing three new gyms in the Chicago and Dallas metros, El Cap – Movement shared other big news in 2021: all gyms in the El Cap network would be unified under the Movement name. In their announcement, Charlotte Bosley stated, “Having all our gyms unite under the Movement brand will make it easier for our members across the country to find us and enjoy the fitness experience they’ve come to love at our gyms.”

Now, Movement’s climbing gym network―the largest in North America―includes 19 gyms and spans 7 states. Movement also plans on adding +40,000 square feet of climbing surface to its Dallas footprint in 2022 with the planned opening of Movement Design District this spring. This will make Movement the first climbing gym chain on the continent to reach 20 gyms.

“We have an amazing team and supportive partners that bring our gyms to life,” said Bosley. “With 19 locations (soon to be 20 with our latest Dallas location), we have learned along the way. These learnings helped us execute during the chaos of 2021. We actually didn’t plan on opening any of these gyms in 2021. They were all intended to be 2020 gyms, however with the uncertainty surrounding running gyms during the pandemic, we were able to push out the openings until we had a greater understanding of the requirements of operating during Covid.”

Bouldering Project photo by Andrew Burton
Photo by Andrew Burton, Duct Tape Then Beer

Developer of the Year 2021 – 2nd Place
Bouldering Project

Taking a close second place for Developer of the Year is Bouldering Project (BP), which also opened three new gyms in 2021: Fremont and Upper Walls in Seattle, and Westgate in Austin. Since Upper Walls is a small satellite gym located one block from the Fremont facility, versus a completely independent location, BP received the runner-up award. However the chain is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing gym developers in the industry. Already in 2022, BP announced the acquisition of three Brooklyn Boulders gyms: Gowanus, Somerville and Eckington―renamed Brooklyn, Boston and Washington D.C. Bouldering Projects, respectively. When its Salt Lake City gym opens in 2022, BP will become the youngest gym chain in North America to operate +10 climbing gyms.

The first Bouldering Project, the original Seattle Bouldering Project on Poplar, opened in 2011. Perhaps most unique about BP’s gyms―which span six metro areas―is that, other than the acquired BKB facilities, all Bouldering Projects were designed and built in-house. That includes their newest Westgate location, which features handcrafted walls of varying angles and opened shortly after the Tokyo Olympics. (In fact, BP’s Director of Setting, Garrett Gregor, was one of the routesetting crew members for the sport’s Olympic debut.)

Ahead of the Westgate opening, the team at BP described their intention of creating spaces for people to create lasting friendships and discover purpose: “We are a project; we want to grow thoughtfully and provide new spaces for the expanding group of people who experience real movement and real human connection within our walls…Our commitment remains the same—to create inspiring and inclusive climbing, movement, and community spaces.”

chart of climbing gym developers who added locations in 2021

Walltopia

Climbing Gym Wall Builder of the Year 2021
Walltopia

Bulgaria-based Walltopia is perennially one of the top wall builders in the industry, boasting some of the largest climbing gyms and tallest climbing walls globally. In 2021 alone, Walltopia built 17 new climbing gyms in the U.S. (11 bouldering, 6 roped/bouldering) and 1 roped/bouldering gym in Canada. With approximately 240,000 square feet of climbing wall surface across its 2021 projects on the continent―including the two largest (by total climbing surface) and three tallest new climbing gyms―Walltopia brought home this year’s Wall Builder of the Year award.

Finding time among their many construction projects, Walltopia also announced in 2021 a new AI product for climbing gyms. Called “Higher Eye,” the device aims to help prevent auto belay user error and is a product of Techtopia, a member of the Walltopia Group―a family of brands which also includes Climbmat (flooring), Holdtopia and HRT (holds and volumes).

Since completing their first climbing gym project in the U.S. in 2007―Momentum Sandy in Salt Lake City―Walltopia has dotted the globe with hundreds of climbing gyms and walls and is showing no signs of slowing down. The company concluded 2020 by announcing a plan to invest $10 million into the industry, and it appears they have stayed true to their word.

Vertical Solutions

Climbing Gym Wall Builder of the Year 2021
Vertical Solutions

Vertical Solutions was a very close second for Wall Builder of the Year, matching the front-runner’s number of North American climbing gym builds but with less aggregate climbing surface area. This past year, Vertical Solutions built 18 new U.S. climbing gyms and led all manufacturers in the construction of U.S. bouldering gyms (12). Altogether, Vertical Solutions erected approximately 153,000 square feet of climbing wall surface across the country, from Hawaii to Washington D.C. Vertical Solution’s signature diamond birch walls are well known in the industry and all are made at their 3-acre campus in Salt Lake City―which employs nearly 100 full-time staff, according to CEO and co-owner Dustin Buckthal.

“In the 15 years since John [Stack] and I founded Vertical Solutions (or “VS”, as we affectionately call it) we’ve helped bring over 100 projects of all sizes to life,” Buckthal said last year. “During this time, our unmistakable diamond-pattern-finish became the symbol of a VS wall, but the walls themselves represent so much more. Vertical Solutions, at its core, values innovation, quality, and aesthetic.”

That core extends beyond climbing walls too, as the VS family of brands includes Habit Climbing (flooring, holds, hardware), Proxy Productions (hold pouring/manufacturing), Sugarhouse Holds (holds), and the three The Front Climbing Clubs in Utah―the most recent of which was the largest new climbing gym of 2020. “As we enter our 17th year, we continue to invest in the depth, strength, and experience of our design, shop, and field teams,” Buckthal told CBJ.

Top Climbing Gym Wall Builders of 2021

1st (tie): Vertical Solutions – 18 gyms
1st (tie): Walltopia – 18 gyms
3rd: OnSite – 5 gyms
4th: Rockwerx – 3 gyms
5th (tie): DÉLIRE – 2 gyms
5th (tie): Eldorado Climbing – 2 gyms
5th (tie): EP Climbing – 2 gyms

Habit

Climbing Gym Floor Installer of the Year 2021
Habit Flooring

Every new climbing gym needs padding, and Vertical Solutions delivered during a year which saw more U.S. climbing gym openings than ever. Their previously mentioned flooring company, Habit Climbing, installed climbing gym flooring in 18 new gyms last year, all of which were Vertical Solutions projects. According to their website, their “years of experience in gym construction and management” have allowed them to provide gyms with high quality flooring used for bouldering and lead/top rope areas of gyms.

“Gym owners are increasingly recognizing the value of high-quality walls, holds, and flooring in regard to their appearance, integrity, and durability,” said Buckthal. “For instance, the quality materials and construction of our boulder flooring increase their useful economic life and provide a safety benefit (e.g. 30% reduction in injuries after changing to higher quality foam).”

Top Climbing Gym Floor Installers of 2021

1st: Habit Flooring – 18 gyms
2nd (tie): Cascade Specialty – 6 gyms
2nd (tie): ClimbMat – 6 gyms
2nd (tie): Flashed – 6 gyms
5th (tie): UCS – 4 gyms
5th (tie): OnSite – 4 gyms
7th: Strati – 3 gyms

Rock Gym Pro

Climbing Gym Management Software of the Year 2021
Rock Gym Pro

Last but not least, Rock Gym Pro wins the inaugural Climbing Gym Management Software of the Year award, with 31 new U.S. climbing gyms and 6 new Canada gyms choosing the popular CRM/POS software. The first-place finish comes as no surprise, as Rock Gym Pro has reportedly been used by more than 90 percent of U.S. climbing gyms. Since RGP’s founding in 2008, over 25 million different users, 30 million stored documents, 100 million check-ins and $2 billion in transactions have been recorded in RGP’s gym software, according to the company’s website.

However, the award is particularly meaningful this year given the year which preceded it. In 2020, amid the pandemic, RGP announced the departure of three core team members and the company’s acquisition by Togetherwork. The change sparked much discussion online, but 2021’s numbers show RGP has maintained its lead in the industry. “Togetherwork’s wealth of technical resources and expertise combined with the knowledge and passion of the existing RGP team will help propel the software to new heights,” Business Leader Maria Trysla said at the time of the announcement. If there was any question before, new climbing gyms answered it by making RGP the climbing gym management software of choice in 2021.

Top Climbing Gym Management Software of 2021

1st: Rock Gym Pro – 37 gyms
2nd: Approach – 9 gyms
3rd: Mindbody – 6 gyms

The Gym List 2021

New U.S. Roped Climbing Gyms of 2021

RANK NAME LOCATION WALLS HEIGHT
1 Pacific Pipe Oakland, CA 46000 sqft 55 ft
2 Movement Lincoln Park Chicago, IL 43000 sqft 56 ft
3 Alchemy Climbing Tallahassee, FL 20000 sqft 30 ft
4 Contact Climbing Gym St. George, UT 18000 sqft 50 ft
4 Gravity Vault Marin County San Rafael, CA 18000 sqft 40 ft
6 DYNO Detroit Detroit, MI 17000 sqft 47 ft
7 Alpine Climbing Adventure Fitness Ripon, CA 16500 sqft 55 ft
8 Ubergrippen Castle Rock, CO 16000 sqft 47 ft
9 High Altitude Fitness Truckee, CA 12000 sqft 50 ft
10 BlocHaven Greenvillle, SC 11247 sqft 25 ft
11 PRG Malvern Malvern, PA 10000 sqft 28 ft
12 Gecko Climbing Gym Phoenix, AZ 8000 sqft 30 ft
12 Valley Rock Gym (OR) Corvallis, OR 8000 sqft 22 ft
12 HiClimb Honolulu, HI 8000 sqft 33 ft
15 Climb Lawrence Lawrence, KS 7500 sqft 20 ft
16 ELEV8 Climbing Gym Traverse City, MI 6000 sqft 42 ft
17 Stone Climbing St. Augustine, FL 5154 sqft 33 ft
18 Macon Rocks Macon, GA 3300 sqft 38 ft
19 Climb San Juan Friday Harbor, WA 1400 sqft 20 ft

New U.S. Bouldering Gyms of 2021

RANK NAME LOCATION WALLS HEIGHT
1 VITAL Brooklyn Brooklyn, NY 18633 sqft 13 ft
2 North Mass Bouldering Indianapolis, IN 18000 sqft 17 ft
3 Gravity Vault Montclair Montclair, NJ 12000 sqft 15 ft
4 The Spot Golden Golden, CO 11000 sqft 16 ft
4 Movement Wrigleyville Chicago, IL 11000 sqft 15 ft
4 Iron City Boulders Pittsburgh, PA 11000 sqft 15 ft
7 MetroRock Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY 10000 sqft 15 ft
7 Alta Boulders Chandler, AZ 10000 sqft 17 ft
7 Brooklyn Boulders Eckington Washington, DC 10000 sqft 16 ft
10 Seattle Bouldering Project Fremont Seattle, WA 9464 sqft 17 ft
11 Movement The Hill Dallas, TX 8860 sqft 15 ft
12 Austin Bouldering Project Westgate Austin, TX 8730 sqft 17 ft
13 The Cliffs at Harlem New York, NY 8135 sqft 15 ft
14 Sender One Playa Vista Playa Vista, CA 7000 sqft 16 ft
15 Sender One Training Center Santa Ana, CA 6000 sqft 16 ft
15 The Factory at Reach Bridgeport, PA 6000 sqft 16 ft
15 Stone Co Climbing College Station, TX 6000 sqft 16 ft
18 Armadillo Boulders San Marcos, TX 5100 sqft 15 ft
19 Sportrock Performance Institute Alexandria, VA 5000 sqft 15 ft
19 Half Moon Bouldering Seattle, WA 5000 sqft 13 ft
21 Grotto  – Miramar (G2) San Diego, CA 4788 sqft 14 ft
22 Rock Shop Richland, WA 4500 sqft 16 ft
23 Bloc Garten Columbus, OH 4100 sqft 15 ft
24 MW Climbing Lincoln, NE 4000 sqft 15 ft
25 Seattle Bouldering Project Upper Walls Seattle, WA 3821 sqft 17 ft
26 Team Touchstone Berkeley, CA 3700 sqft 15 ft
27 Benchmark Climbing San Francisco, CA 3200 sqft 14 ft
28 Agility Boulders Capitola, CA 3000 sqft 18 ft
29 Uplift Climbing Shoreline, WA 2400 sqft 14 ft
30 Salida Boulders Salida, CO 1600 sqft 13 ft
31 Crag Climb Beavers Bend Broken Bow, OK 1100 sqft 15 ft
32 Beast Fingers Climbing Denver, CO 800 sqft 14 ft
33 Big Island Climbing Hilo, HI 700 sqft 16 ft
34 Crux Climbing Northport, AL 660 sqft 12 ft

New Canadian Climbing Gyms of 2021

Canmore Climbing Gym Canmore, AB bouldering
RavenWood Boulders Nanaimo, BC bouldering
BoulderHouse Langford Victoria, BC bouldering
Climb Muskoka Bracebridge, ON ropes & bouldering
Boiler Room Kingston, ON ropes & bouldering
Aspire Climbing – Vaughan Vaughan, ON ropes & bouldering
Délire Parc Quebec, QC bouldering

Behind the Data

This feature is intended to act as an extension of Climbing Business Journal’s annual Gyms and Trends report. The research and data collection for 2021 was done largely by Madeleine Eichorn and Scott Rennak, with writing and editorial duties shared by Naomi Stevens, Joe Robinson and John Burgman. The data is proprietary to CBJ, and a further explanation of the methodology can be found in the 2019 Gyms & Trends report.

Climbing gym growth from 1990 from CBJ gym map

CBJ is dedicated to researching and reporting accurately on the climbing gym industry in North America. Climbing gyms have been proliferating across the world since the early 1990s. The first gyms had flat walls and rudimentary holds, and often possessed inadequate air filtration, lighting, and landing zones. Modern climbing gyms, in contrast, often have vast open spaces with beautiful natural light, intricate wall designs and features, industrial HVAC, and are filled with bright and interesting shapes of plastic, fiberglass and wood. The industry has grown up, and modern climbing gyms now cater to a diverse and expanding clientele.