Canadian company DÉLIRE recently unveiled its first-ever “outdoor bouldering site.” Known as the DÉLIRE Parc, this climbing site is located in the municipal park (known as Sun Life) beach area of Baie de Beauport, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in Québec. It features 120 linear feet of open-air climbable surface built by DÉLIRE Climbing Walls (approximately 50 boulders of varying levels of difficulty), separated into two walls that measure 15 feet in height on a large sand pit (although there are still padded mats at the base of the walls). The bouldering site is temporary, in the sense that it will be dismantled in October—at the onset of the long Canadian winter—and then reassembled in the warmer months next year.
The DÉLIRE Parc joins three other gyms in Québec run by DÉLIRE Escalade, the division of the company that operates gyms. According to DÉLIRE, the Parc is one of the few substantial beach-bouldering areas anywhere in North America. It joins a long lineage of climbing walls being assembled as mobile or nonpermanent structures in outdoor spaces. For example, back in 2018, CBJ reported on an “outdoor bouldering center” from Montreal company Nomad Bloc; it operated similar to a standard gym—with membership options—but was designed to be movable to accommodate park events and outdoor festivals.
Outdoor climbing walls in parks or at gyms, of course, have been around for decades. Nearly all major wall manufacturers have completed outdoor projects, and outdoor facilities like The Cliffs at Dumbo in New York City have existed as well. But more outdoor climbing sites serving as standalone “gyms” or complete expansions to gyms have been spotted of late. More recently, Texas-based Summit announced expansion plans that include an outdoor bouldering area across the street from its preexisting Plano (indoor) gym, for example.
“The winter time can be beautiful here—65 degrees and sunny,” Summit co-owner Chris LoCrasto told CBJ back in February. “We’ve just always thought it would be a cool thing for the membership to have the option to go to an outdoor wall.”
Gabriel D’amour, Director of Operations at DÉLIRE, says that the pandemic played a part in the creation of its outdoor expansion. In particular, the forced closures of other facilities allowed for time to take on the Parc’s creation as a new project. Also, ongoing COVID mitigation guidelines meant that people in Canada could prioritize other activities over indoor climbing. This led to a question at DÉLIRE—“How can we limit membership losses and stay attractive?” The answer, D’amour notes, was the Parc.
From an industry perspective, it will be interesting to track whether the COVID-19 pandemic—with all of its encouragement of social distancing—will prompt even more outdoor and open-air bouldering sites in the future. D’amour thinks this will be the case for a number of reasons.
“Not only are safety measures more laxed outdoors, but for the last year and a half, people have been encouraged to do their exercise outdoors—so why not meet them there? I mean, climbing outside with all the advantages of a gym (safety, accessibility, ambiance) is super attractive,” he says. “Also, this was an occasion to make something new and unique. In my opinion, the industry is constantly trying to innovate but doesn’t always succeed. There are plenty of new gyms opening, but the question that should be part of the process is how does the project stand out? I believe a move like this is what it takes to stay fresh, and it pushes all of us to try harder.”
Canada isn’t the only place where new outdoor climbing gyms are finding a home either. CBJ recently learned that another entirely outdoor bouldering facility called Asylum is in the works in the United States as well, this one located in San Diego. The walls for that gym are being built by OnSite, another Quebec-based wall manufacturer. Unlike DÉLIRE Parc, the walls at Asylum in sunny California will be able to remain assembled year-round.
“The idea of having an outdoor climbing gym concept in San Diego just made sense to me since the weather is nearly perfect year-round,” Asylum’s Founder Jordan Romig told CBJ.
While outdoor climbing facilities and indoor facilities share a lot of the same ethos, there are some significant differences. Most notably, D’amour cites the weather as an “uncontrollable aspect” for an outdoor facility.
“We put an open/close status widget to let clients know if the gym was open or closed depending on weather,” D’amour explains. “We created a work-shift confirmation policy to make sure we’re handling HR correctly, even questions like ‘Should we avoid dark colors of holds so they don’t become too hot in the sun?’ were brought up.”
In fact, D’amour and others at DÉLIRE eventually chose to avoid purchasing or routesetting with any black or red handholds, not only because those colors would get hotter under the intense outdoor sun, but also because the beach heat and sunshine would discolor those holds over time more so than holds of other colors.
D’amour adds, “What really helped me visualize the task at hand was the time spent rethinking every process with every team and making sure it worked in our new environment. Climbing gyms look pretty chill from the client’s point of view, but backstage there are a lot of things happening.”
John Burgman is the author of High Drama, a book that chronicles the history of American competition climbing. He is a Fulbright journalism grant recipient and a former magazine editor. He holds a master’s degree from New York University and bachelor’s degree from Miami University. In addition to writing, he coaches a youth bouldering team. Follow him on Twitter @John_Burgman and Instagram @jbclimbs