Summit Climbing Gym in Silverthorne succeeds as co-op after initial failure
For much of the last decade the 3,500-square-foot climbing gym behind Sears in Silverthorne sat vacant. The 32-foot walls and large bouldering area remained intact in the warehouse-like facility with no one there to climb them. Two different owners tried to make it work; neither succeeded.
The gym opened in 2002, and its original owner kept it going until 2005. From 2005 to 2011 it sat unused until a second owner gave it another go. When he too gave up, it sat empty again for most of 2013.
The business simply couldn’t generate enough revenue to sustain itself.
However, 18 months ago a group of seven local climbers took a decidedly different approach. Instead of trying to reopen as a for-profit gym, the group opted to run it as a not-for-profit co-op.
“Doing it as a co-op was really the only viable option,” said Bryan Heppner, one of the co-op’s founders.
Before the group even finalized a plan to lease the space it recruited a total of 35 climbers, each of whom committed to a yearlong membership ($600) to raise enough funds to get what is now called the Summit Climbing Gym up and running.
“It was definitely a big leap of faith for those guys,” Kent Sharp, another co-op founder, said.
Had the proposal not worked, those original members likely wouldn’t have been able to recover their initial investment.
“We were scared we weren’t going to get it off the ground,” Kingsley Poon, another of the original seven, said of their early plans.
“It’s those 35 original members that really got it going,” Heppner added.
For almost a year now the gym has been running with enough members to cover costs.
“We’re not trying to get money out of anyone,” Heppner said of the business plan. “We’re just trying to keep the place open.”
Every dollar they get goes back to the gym. Whether it’s new holds, ropes or cleaning supplies, membership costs all go directly to sustaining the operation.
With their one-year anniversary approaching, the co-op’s founders said their membership — which has spread almost entirely though word of mouth — continues to grow.
“It’s exceeded our expectations,” Poon said.
Even during the summer — when most avid climbers are outdoors — membership remained higher than they’d hoped.
“We’re looking good going into our second year,” Sharp said.
They are currently above the number of members needed to break even and recently acquired weight-lifting equipment from the Silverthorne Recreation Center.
Moving forward the board members hope to continue to expand some of their offerings.
They plan to celebrate their anniversary on Nov. 1.
HOW IT WORKS
The gym now offers monthly, six-month or yearly membership options, and there is a daily rate for anyone looking to give the facility a try. Currently it is staffed only on Tuesdays from 6-9 p.m. New members are encouraged to come during that time or to set up an appointment. But full members have access to the gym any day of the week between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. via a keypad lock on the front door — provided they have passed a basic belay test given by one of the co-op’s approved members.
The founders hope to expand their staffing in the future. More volunteers are needed in order to do that.
The gym doesn’t currently offer any official lessons, but a number of members are more than willing to help climbing newbies get a feel for the gym. They recommend prospective members have at least some climbing experience, or come in with others who know what they are doing. Members and guests are required to bring their own equipment. The gym does provide ropes and one self-belay setup.
“I love it,” Josh Accetturo of Frisco said after his first visit Tuesday night. “They’ve got it down.”
With only 60-80 members in a given month, the gym is rarely full. Generally topping out at only around six to 12 climbers during peak times.
“It’s a community,” Nina Quina, also of Frisco, said of the gym’s atmosphere. She’s a member who recently volunteered to staff the facility on Tuesdays. She said all the members are willing to help, and she just recently learned how to lead climb after some instruction from one of the gym’s founders.
“Probably half of what I know, I learned in the last few days,” she said.
All indications are that the co-op model will continue to be sustainable. With the fall season coming, gym organizers expect membership to continue growing.
“It’s doing better and better,” Heppner said.
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