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Number of Climbing Gyms Reaches All Time High

The rapidly developing climbing gyms industry has continued its growth despite the effects of the pandemic.

After two years of lockdowns and reformatted public health measures, many climbers are breathing a little easier. In Canada, mask mandates are finally falling, hopefully denoting a change in the prospective future for climbers and their gyms. Despite the industry’s implementation of COVID restrictions in 2021, the sport continued to grow. With 591 gyms in the US, and 136 in Canada, the total number of North American gyms grew over 700 this year. With so many gyms, there is a lot to analyze in this rapidly developing and changing industry. All of the following data was graciously provided, and further discussed at a leading indoor climbing data analytics publication: Climbing Business Journal (CBJ).

Photo by Michael Cano

While the pandemic retains its grip on many parts of the world, it was only one of the two major industry influencers of this last year. The Tokyo Summer Olympics became Climbing’s debut on the Olympic stage. During the event, Sport Climbing became the most Googled new sport of the Olympic Games.

As Sport Climbing blossomed on the international stage, climbing gyms in North America noted an increase in traffic. According to an interview conducted by CBJ, Movement’s Chief Marketing Officer said that Movement’s nearly 20 locations saw an increase in gym visits over the month of July. In day passes alone, the climbing conglomerate saw a 10% increase in day passes sold. “The week sport climbing was featured at the Olympic Games,” Movement CMO Charlotte Bosley continued, “our website traffic grew by 45% compared to the week prior.”

As referenced in last year’s report, the climbing industry braved the pandemic far better than the general fitness industry with only three percent of climbing gyms closing their doors in 2020. By comparison, 20-25% of general fitness locations retired in the face of the pandemic.

Click to watch the climbing gym industry grow – .gif provided by CBJ

In 2021, Canada weathered the storm well, taking on debt and risk to make it out the other side. Only Ontario’s Boiler Room closed in 2021. Still, this closure came as the result of the Boiler Room opening a more modern facility in the same area. By comparison, the United States saw eight gym closures in 2021, the lowest number since 2016.

What’s more impressive is the fact that these gym closures came after 2020 closed 20 climbing gyms permanently. Closures incorporated, the growth rate of climbing gyms in the US hit 8.24%, exceeding the 5.41% growth of 2020. This is substantially more than the 2.3% growth rate of all fitness locations in 2022.

Of the locations that opened, two trends stood out from the rest. First, 63% of new North American climbing gyms were bouldering gyms. This value reflected the relative maintenance cost of bouldering gyms versus roped facilities. DÉLIRE’s co-owner Jeff Beaulieu underscored this thought in an interview with CBJ. “Bouldering gyms and standalone training facilities have less fixed costs,” he said. “So in the event of temporary closures or capacity restrictions, they have less fees to cover and can navigate these periods more easily than larger gyms.”

This trend may also reflect the growing interest in bouldering, indoor climbing’s most accessible climbing discipline. The community focused atmosphere is, in a way, more tailored toward beginners than roped gyms. Rope climbing requires instruction or staff to help climbers up on the wall.

Graphic provided by CBJ

Perhaps more notable than the type of climbing gyms that opened in 2021 was the brand of gyms that opened in this year. While independent ventures made up the majority of new climbing gyms in North America, 47% of new North American climbing gyms were expansion gyms. Companies such as Movement rebranded their Planet Granite and Earth Treks locations to reflect the Movement brand. Notably, they adopted the full title: Movement Climbing, Fitness and Yoga.

It seems that these larger facilities wish to pull out of the smaller indoor climbing niche. What is possibly concerning about this trend, for smaller gym owners, is the dominance of larger gyms in the North American fitness industry. It seems inevitable that climbing could soon reflect the corporate structure found in larger fitness facilities.

With that said, the advent of training gyms pushed back on this idea. Five of the 10 training gyms that currently operate in North America opened in 2021, and stand to represent a smaller, potentially cheaper solution to indoor climbing.

Still, there are now 76 climbing gym chains in North America. Although the industry continues to grow all over the continent, it grows slower in Canada than in the US. In 2021, Canada opened six gyms, the same number as 2020. With Toronto experiencing the largest amount of time in lockdown in all of Canada, and Canadians generally experiencing more lockdown than most of North America, this value may not seem surprising. Still the growth rate continues to fall in Canada since 2016. Still, the total number of climbing gyms continues to rise.

Despite the location of outdoor crags, nearly 90% of the new climbing gyms in 2021 opened in Metropolitan areas. It appears that demand for spacious facilities remains even as North America begins to enter a mid-to-post pandemic world. As for 2022 and onward, 48 new climbing gyms are planned for opening.

Graphic provided by CBJ