After a tense month and 170 consecutive days of climbing gym closures, many in Ontario have wondered whether indoor climbing will ever return to Canada’s most populated province. It would seem that COVID’s surge has finally reached some sort of head as cases drop with each passing week.
Although it remains unclear what this will mean for climbing gyms in the coming months, Canada’s recent vaccination efforts have given over 30 per cent of the country at least one dose of a vaccine. At this point, around 0.5 per cent of Canadians receive their first dose each day suggesting a post-June summer that could see a more protected population. What does this mean for climbers? More trips outside and hopefully more days on plastic as well.
Despite the complications that come from opening a climbing gym during the pandemic, several new facilities pushed ahead in this last year. In 2020, climbing gyms opened all over the country. Ontario’s Aspire Vaughan is set to become 2021’s first new climbing gym following the end of gym closures. As the second gym to open after the Canmore Climbing Gym, Canadian indoor rock climbing appears here to stay.
With over 7,000 square feet of climbing wall, this boulder-boasting, Ninja Warrior rock gym has been designed to knock your socks off and slip you into a brand-new pair of rental shoes. Aspire Vaughan is radical.
The new bouldering-focused climbing facility comes as an addition to the Aspire franchise. It came out of an expo and a conversation between three climbers: Michelle Vanderheide, her husband Justin, and their friend Christopher Zhou.
Vanderheide began climbing back in 2015 with Justin. The two friends cut their teeth at the newly built Boulderz Etobicoke. They then moved to the Hub. The HUB’s extensive bouldering area catered more toward the interests of the two new climbers. Their excitement for the rope-less discipline began.
Switching over their memberships to Boulder Park before the pandemic, the well-connected climbers established relationships and found an appreciation with and for the GTA’s climbing gyms. The friendly, soon-to-be gym owners found a deep love for Ontario’s community and decided that they would open a facility for themselves.
Although many climbing gyms open under a by-climbers-for-climbers model, Vanderheide said that she wanted to build a climbing gym for everyone.
They looked to Vaughan knowing that a rock gym had not yet been opened in the populated area.
Despite the inherent complications caused by the pandemic, Vanderheide maintains that the building process went smoothly. Although each Aspire location does operate independently of one another, the other franchise locations’ affiliations have carried over to Vaughan.
As such, Aspire Vaughan worked with Aspire Milton affiliate Impact Climbing to build their massive boulder islands.
Impact’s beautiful walls have made it a staple of several Ontario climbing gyms. Their inclusion as wall builders for the new Aspire location has proven fruitful and suggests the quality of the boulder problems on offer.
In addition to the climbing walls, Impact designed Aspire Vaughan’s party room, management office and front desk making for a cohesive experience that blends the front door with the back-most boulder.
Vanderheide said that along with their boulders and Ninja Warrior lanes, the location will offer birthday party and lesson services. “We won’t be starting off with the training area right off the bat. We’ll have the pull-up bars and hangboards attached to our Ninja elements, and then we’ll see how our community feels about a systems board. They will decide which one we should install and the other equipment they would like to see in the facility.”
This community-oriented approach to building the facility affords members the opportunity to shape their own space. That integration makes just one of the many things that Vanderheide hopes will make all patrons feels welcome.
“We want more new climbers to come in and feel welcome and comfortable. I remember starting out climbing, and it’s really intimidating. A lot of my friends are high grade climbers and a lot of times when I’m climbing with them, I don’t actually go on the wall because I don’t want them to see me climb. I don’t want that feeling for our community. That’s something that Justin, Topher and I really talked about.
“We’re not high-grade climbers. We climb for fun. It’s just something that we enjoy doing. I don’t want that intimidation factor to be a part of our community. I want people to just be comfortable climbing with each other.”
Although the facility does feature bouldering almost exclusively, several 24-foot autobelays will allow members to warm up or train endurance when they decide to step back from bouldering or the Ninja course. The boulder-islands each reach a height of 16 feet. Due to the wall angles, the longest problem at Aspire Vaughan stretches to 27 feet of climbing.
In addition to the incredible walls, the Aspire Vaughan team decided to purchase holds from the local grip developers Post Holds. These never-before-seen holds are likely to turn some heads.
Naturally, many climbers will wonder about the Ninja Warrior set up at Aspire Vaughan. The Ninja Warrior Course features two lanes and begins with a Salmon Ladder before entering the overhanging elements. Although much of it will constitute a focus on the upper-body, there are some balance elements as well. The course concludes with 10-foot and 13-foot warp walls.
Finally, the fully equipped climbing gym will feature a café, lockers, showers and art; however, the facility will not be complete until you have come by to give it a visit. Currently you can buy discounted pre-memberships from their website.