Specialized Utah Gym Is All About Drytooling

A drytooling clinic/class at The Scratch Pad
The Scratch Pad is one of the few dedicated drytooling gyms in North America. In addition to open climbing sessions, the gym offers drytooling classes and clinics for all skill levels as well as competitions that combine gym and ice climbing. (All images courtesy of The Scratch Pad)

The Scratch Pad
Orem, Utah

Specs: Located in Orem, Utah, The Scratch Pad was opened in 2021 by Susan Sims and Dustin Lyons as reportedly the first and only dedicated drytooling gym in the state. According to their website, “Susan and Dustin have been friends and climbing partners for years now, and they recently climbed Denali together. As that amazing trip came to its climactic end, they both were looking for what was next.” Before launching The Scratch Pad, Lyons and Sims first toured The Ice Coop—a drytooling gym in Boulder, Colorado—to gain some insight from owner and manager Tyler Kempney. After hearing Kempney’s “dos and don’ts,” Lyons and Sims began putting their plans into action; Sims provided the drytooling holds and Lyons provided the walls and gym space, since he was already leasing the building for a separate business.

The Scratch Pad founders
Founders Susan Sims and Dustin Lyons, on course to another adventure.

“We opened up this gym because Susan and I both lived down the street,” said Lyons, who is now the sole owner and operator of the Utah gym. However, Lyons admits the business could be more successful if operated in nearby Salt Lake City rather than Orem, as a lot of the gym’s client base comes from Salt Lake. He suggests future drytooling gym operators ensure there will be a community to support their gym, in addition to providing supplemental amenities for non-drytoolers. Lyons hopes to soon expand the amenities at The Scratch Pad to include traditional indoor climbing and expanded fitness options, after bringing on a new business partner.

As a relatively niche undertaking (there are currently only five North American drytooling gyms on CBJ’s Gym Map), operating a drytooling gym that allows real ice axes does come with some unique business considerations. While some drytooling gyms use kick in plywood, for instance, Lyons chose to use foot holds. “The pros are you don’t have to replace plywood frequently, like you do when you have a kick in gym,” Lyons explained. “The downside is a lot of the competitions—particularly the World Cups and the International Cups—are all kick in, and so it’s nice to be able to train that way.” In order to prepare for the Ouray competition that took place in January, The Scratch Pad did add pieces of plywood to their walls for practice.

Trango Holds Pardners


Another challenge that comes with ice axes is the speed at which the tool wears down climbing holds and the increased potential of destroying the climbing wall. To mitigate these challenges, The Scratch Pad has been collaborating with Atomik—testing holds, giving feedback, and even occasionally helping with hold design. In addition to new stainless steel drytooling holds, Atomik is also creating backer boards—essentially sliders that go around the climbing hold so that, if a climber misses, the axe doesn’t tear into the wall.

Climbing with ice axes and other tools also comes with added safety precautions. When bouldering at The Scratch Pad, for example, climbers are not allowed to shoulder the ice axe like they can in roped climbing, due to the potential of dangerous falls. And while leashes are not mandatory at the gym, climbers and belayers must wear helmets outside of safe zones. “We don’t require leashes for bouldering or for roped climbing because we want to give people the most accurate training experience,” said Lyons. “Leashes are not used in competitions or by most people outdoors; they can get tangled and make it harder to manage. We are also set up specifically for drytooling, so everyone is wearing helmets and is aware that tools may fall at some point.” Climbers must also wear gloves, and safety glasses are encouraged. In addition, The Scratch Pad had to purchase special insurance for use of these tools in the gym.

Drytooling at The Scratch Pad
Although leashes aren’t required at The Scratch Pad, helmets and gloves are mandatory, and some gym goers will wear safety glasses as well.

For Lyons, the benefits of providing a training hub for drytool and ice climbers has outweighed the challenges. A few weeks ago, for instance, The Scratch Pad held its Civic Duty Comp, a 24-hour competition which combined climbing at The Scratch Pad with climbing on ice, mixed and drytool routes outdoors in Provo Canyon. “I don’t know how or who or what, but someone nicknamed me the mayor of Provo Canyon because I spent so much time up there,” Lyons recounted. “So I named this comp the Civic Duty Comp so that we can elect a new Mayor.”

Walls: Abide Climbing Holds
Flooring: Gymnastic crash mats
CRM Software: GoDaddy
Website: climbthescratchpad.com
Instagram: @ClimbTheScratchPad

In Their Words: “There’s a lot that we’ve learned…There’s a lot that we have been developing in terms of support for the sport. And so if anybody is looking to open up a drytooling gym, we can definitely help.” – Dustin Lyons, The Scratch Pad owner/operator

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