RockFish gym aims to create climbing team
Kayla Stephens of Columbia Falls climbs the walls at RockFish Climbing Gym and Fitness Center in Whitefish. (Brenda Ahearn/Flathead Journal)
Major Nicholson of Billings climbs at RockFish Climbing Gym and Fitness Center in Whitefish. This year for Christmas the family decided to give each other experiences rather than things. One of those experiences was to go indoor climbing. (Brenda Ahearn/Flathead Journal)
Jack Herford, 22, has been climbing for 9 years. Originally from Flagstaff, Arizona he is in the Flathead Valley for an extended visit an is a member at RockFish Climbing and Fitness in Whitefish.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)
| January 17, 2017 4:15 PM
Since opening in August, the RockFish Climbing Gym and Fitness Center in Whitefish has hosted a public climbing competition, started an after-school climbing program for kids and taken steps toward running an accredited college course.
While other gyms in the area offer rock climbing, RockFish is the first to offer bouldering.
Rock climbing requires equipment and a partner, said Alex White, general manager of RockFish, “with bouldering you can do it by yourself, whenever. You could even come in on your lunch break.”
The 3,000-square-foot bouldering area offers difficulty levels from beginning to advanced — and the climbing routes change every five to six weeks. With nine inches of padding on the ground, and routes that don’t extend beyond 14 feet high, no safety equipment is required. The climbing gym also includes a child-specific bouldering area.
RockFish offers an after-school program for children in the first grade and up Tuesday through Thursday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. The program is $15 per climber, with a maximum of 15 kids per group. The program opens each day with some basic stretching and an introduction to climbing, White said.
“We don’t just want to call it an after-school program; it’s more like a climbing club,” White said. “Even if they don’t want to climb, we keep them focused on climbing-related activities like balance practice or stretching.”
White says that the climbing club is not only an after-school program but also the early beginnings for a competitive climbing team where participants will travel and compete on a national level. The team would be open to children 6 or older, and each child would compete within his or her age group.
“Bozeman, Helena and other places in Montana have climbing teams and this, to my knowledge, is the first in the Kalispell area.” White said, “For the competitors, it would be more pro-style.”
White hopes to have a team together sometime this spring.
Although the climbing club is specifically for kids, White said the gym will add camps to its activity calendar this summer, which will be offered for all ages. The summer camps will range from a single day to a week-long program. The primary focus will be to offer people a chance to take their bouldering practice outside the gym. White is currently applying for permits for Point of Rocks, located between Whitefish and Eureka, and another location near Lake Kookanusa.
The teen and adult camps will focus more on rope systems, while the children’s camps will be geared to getting kids comfortable with climbing outdoors. These camps are open to beginners and will include time in the gym to go over the indoor courses before heading to other locations around the valley.
For college students interested in getting a more in-depth learning experience with bouldering, White said an accredited course is also in the works. The gym is currently in the application process with Flathead Valley Community College. If accepted, FVCC will allow the gym to start classes for the fall 2017 semester.
White hopes to host more competitions locally where people from around the valley can come together and compete for prizes. “Whitefish on the Rocks,” which took place on Nov. 19, was the first of these competitions.
Participants were given two hours to climb, and their scores were calculated from each participant’s top 10 highest scores. White described the event as a “friendly neighborhood competition.” It was open to the public and drew more than 85 participants from around the valley — ranging in age from 4 to 65. RockFish gave away $2,000 worth of prizes and each competitor received a T-shirt and goodie bag with their entry fee of $20.
White stressed that the bouldering gym is open to people of all ages and all skill levels. The gym offers Ladies Night once a month for women to come together for a 30-minute yoga session and an hour of climbing.
“There’s so much of an outdoor community — hiking, climbing, just getting out in the mountains — and that all brings the same type of person. We want to bring like-minded people together, and just create a fun place for them to come back to,” White said.
Since opening in August, membership has continued to increase, White said, while many guests start out with a punch card or a day pass, they quickly become members.
“The valley had a long period of time without a climbing gym,” White said. “The climbing community has been here waiting for something and now it’s here.”
The Whitefish Climbing Gym and Fitness Center is located in the Whitefish Mountain Mall near Mountain Cinema 4, 6475 U.S. Highway 93 S. Suite 13. For more information on the climbing club, climbing times and classes, call 406-862-8955.
Reporter Alyssa Gray may be reached at 758-4433 or email@example.com.