Climbers, you have a new reason to love living in this area. The newest climbing gym in Knoxville, Onsight, will officially open its doors to the public in April, providing the most climbing space in town—along with plenty of other amenities. Here are 10 things to know about the newest addition to Knoxville’s climbing community.
1. It’s Built for Climbers, by Climbers
Christian Robinson and Yoli Chen fell in love with climbing right around the same time they fell in love with each other. They met in 2005 while exploring crags in Southern California and decided a decade later to move to Knoxville to start a new life and a new rock gym. “This is not a franchise,” Robinson says. “This is our gym.” Onsight isn’t a pop-up corporate gym with some unknown owner. This is a home for climbers built by fellow climbers. Plain and simple.
2. Climbing with Kids is Encouraged
Onsight is also made by parents. Yoli and Christian have two children of their own, and they know the struggle of trying to climb with little ones. So instead of making parents choose between time with their kids or time climbing, they’ve built several programs at Onsight around the needs of young climbing families. For the very youngest (as young as six months), there's a child watch center where children can play, read books, and do arts and crafts under the supervision of Onsight staff. They’re also developing a "Climbers and Crawlers" program, which will be hosted in the early morning several times a month where parents and young climbers can connect with other young families in the community. Climbing clubs for kids start at age 3 and are tailored to the abilities and energies of our cities youngest climbers.
3. The Size Will Impress You
The Vol Wall and the River Sports Climbing Center have served our community tirelessly for years, and plenty of our area’s best climbers learned on those walls. They're still invaluable hubs of climbing wisdom and community. But the truth is, Knoxville needs a bigger wall, and has for awhile. The presence of a full-fledged climbing gym like those found in neighbors Atlanta and Nashville is long overdue, and we finally have it. Onsight has over 12,000 square feet of climbing wall surface with walls soaring to elevations more than 50 feet high. That dwarfs any other wall available in the city.
4. It’s a World-Class Facility
One of the pitfalls of being a midsized city so hospitable to new business is that we tend to get a lot of new enterprises that are just “good enough.” This is not the case with Onsight. Their walls are professionally designed and built by the world’s leading climbing wall producer , Walltopia. T he wall terrain, built largely by part-owner and construction coordinator Woody Miller, is diverse enough to accommodate top-ropers, lead-climbers, boulderers, and crushers of all ages and abilities. All their routes are set by in-house experts as well as featured guest setters. If you’re a Knoxvillian who’s been waiting on a world-class wall, this is it.
5. A Great Place to Hang
When you walk into the facility, the first thing that hits you is the huge climbing wall, towering over you in gray and neon green. And yes, Onsight is here for climbing. But it also envisions itself as a “third place,” a space in between work and home for climbers to hang out, relax, do homework, and just be around other awesome climber types. Above the entryway is an observation deck with a lounge with free WiFi access, custom-made organic crashpad couches, and coffee tables made from parts of the original building for climbers to chill out before or after a climb and connect with their passionate peers.
6. It’s More Than Just a Gym
When choosing where they wanted to raise their kids, Yoli and Christian knew they wanted to be around great outdoor climbing. “We mapped out the best climbing areas, and Knoxville was right there in the middle. It seemed perfect.” So when they built the gym, the city and its climbers were at the forefront of their minds. They wanted to engage Knoxville with events and programming that matched the pervasive climbing enthusiasm that exists in the city. They promise that Onsight will be searching out new ex periences to offer its climbers. These might be small gestures like free coffee and donuts from local shops, but it will also include bigger projects like film screenings, college nights, live music nights, food truck nights, and climbing.
“We want the community to come here, but we also want to go out to them,” Yoli says. Onsight has already sponsored two of the University of Tennessee’s climbing competitions, as well as other local community events and are keeping their eyes open for other places to engage the city outside of its brick and mortar.
7. They Don’t Want You to Stay Inside
As much as the Onsight team loves to see your smiling faces climbing the walls, they’re even happier when they know you are outside, tackling real rock with the skills to do so safely and ethically. That’s why they’re spearheading a program geared toward helping climbers transition to the outdoors . This includes teaching anchor building, anchor cleaning, gear retrieval, and rappelling , but will also incorporate the skills climbers need to be courteous and ethical outside. “We’ll be putting new climbers outdoors,” Christian says. “So we want those new climbers to be well-equipped, safe, and respectful.” Onsight is committed to supporting and becoming a member gym to the Access Fund, a nonprofit that fights for climbing opportunities, and it plans to regularly give donations to help protect America’s climbing areas.
8. Everyone is Welcome
“The whole family, the whole community, and the whole spectrum of age, ability, and experience is invited to our gym,” says Yoli. They’re even working toward starting an Adaptive Climbing Program to help individuals with physical disabilities. As mentioned above, young people are embraced wholeheartedly at Onsight, but there are also those as the other end of the age spectrum, too. “We’re transgenerational. We have classes for 3-year- olds, but we also have 70-year-olds who are crushing.”
9. You’ll Always Have Something to Do
We rarely see this kind of programming diversity at a climbing gym, and you definitely won't find it anywhere else in Knoxville. If you’re new to climbing, you can test the waters with Climb Time . Once you’re ready to dive in, you can get a membership, ten climbing instruction classes , yin and power flow yoga classes , strength and core classes , a kid's climbing academy , and a competitive youth team, not to mention a great youth camp coming this summer . At Onsight, you'll never be at a loss for something to do or for cool people to do it with.
10. Get Ready to Climb
Onsight opens at the beginning of A pril, followed by their big grand opening celebration the weekend of April 22-23. The festivities start Friday night with an Evolv shoe demo, climbing clinics with Power Company Climbing, and food provided by Woodfire Pizza. Saturday will be a family-friendly blowout with live music, giveaways, climbing clinics with Power Company Climbing, local food vendors & food trucks, kids' activities, and fun games like the Randori (click that link. You won't be disappointed). Learn more about the weekend-long celebration here .