Northern Alberta climbers hope for larger indoor training facility

Tyler Weber, president of the Grande Prairie Climbing Association, currently trains in his garage.  (Luke Ettinger/CBC  - image credit)
Tyler Weber, president of the Grande Prairie Climbing Association, currently trains in his garage. (Luke Ettinger/CBC - image credit)

Rock climbers in northern Alberta are collaborating with the City of Grande Prairie on plans for a facility to help the sport reach new heights in the region.

Tyler Weber with the Grande Prairie Climbing Association said the non-profit formed following the closure of the rock wall at Northwestern Polytechnic in 2020.

"It just brought a bunch of like-minded people together," Weber said.

After presenting to council in March 2022, the climbing association is working with the city for a feasibility review on finding a new place to train indoors.

Grande Prairie has allocated $115,000 of their 2023 budget to work with the group on a new climbing facility.

"We are working with the Grand Prairie Climbing Association to kind of determine the best use of that money, identify some potential locations that the climbing wall could be, and also discuss some fundraising opportunities," said Stephanie Cajolais, the city's director of recreation and culture.

Luke Ettinger/CBC
Luke Ettinger/CBC

Last year, the city opened a small climbing wall at its activity and reception centre.

"It is designed for really young kids to climb," Cajolais said. "So basically school age children under the age of 12."

Since the polytechnic facility closed, Champions Gym has also installed a 10-foot rock wall. Raphael Bergmann, owner of the private gym in Grande Prairie, said he admired the former climbing gym.

"We're not there yet, obviously, but that is part of our whole business plan going forward. So we're looking to eventually grow into that similar model or even greater, " Bergmann said.

Problem-solving skills

The wall at Champions is getting used by the ninja warrior program, which is based on the television show American Ninja Warrior. The students train together on a variety of obstacles and some even compete in provincial, national, and international competitions.

Caroline Erlam coaches the climbing portion of the ninja training at Champions. The 17-year-old said what she likes about climbing is the problem-solving aspect.

"I like watching them succeed after trying a few times," Erlam said of the students.

Erlam said although the wall at Champions is smaller than the polytechnic, she has been able to reconfigure the rocks so the climbers are challenged with new routes.

In the future, Weber said the climbing association hopes for a gym comparable to the size of facilities in Edmonton. In the meantime, he is training in his garage so he can practice scaling cliffs and frozen rock walls.

"We don't want these to be 10-foot bouldering walls. We want a legitimate climbing gym," Weber said.

"Even when we had our gym, we knew we wanted something bigger and better."