Over the past four years, bouldering has boomed in Birmingham, and crowds of climbers have overwhelmed First Avenue Rocks, a popular downtown rock gym that occupies 4,500-square feet. To address the need for more indoor climbing space, the owners of First Avenue opened Birmingham Boulders this fall.
With 12,000 square feet of space in its main room, Birmingham Boulders is the largest bouldering gym east of the Mississippi River, according to General Manager Emily Elstner. Attached to the main gym is The Forge, a 4,000-square foot training facility with climbing-specific programs and equipment.
"Climbing in general has just taken off," said Elstner. “People no longer think it’s just for extreme people.”
While you’ll find top climbers scaling the walls of Birmingham Boulders, the gym is designed to suit people of all ability levels.
Something for Everyone
"We’re not just targeting the two percent of the market that climbs V8 and higher; we’re targeting everybody," said Elstner. “Our members include a two-year old and a person in his mid-sixties.”
When you walk through the front doors of Birmingham Boulders, head to the right, where you’ll find routes with auto-belay devices, shorter routes and a party room for kids. This area is good for first-time climbers, kids and families, and it allows people to have a gathering without spilling into the rest of the gym.
"There’s so much space that a lot can be happening," said Elstner. “We had 80 people climbing at the same time as a kid’s birthday party, but there was still plenty of room.”
As you move through the gym, the walls get taller and routes grow more difficult, but beginners or intermediate climbers will still find easier problems.
Like many modern rock gyms, the building sports an industrial vibe. Located in a manufacturing district, the cavernous building once housed a label and packaging company, and Birmingham Budweiser is just across the street. While there’s a utilitarian feel to Birmingham Boulders, the interior features blonde wood walls that make it very clean.
Welcome to The Forge
If the main gym should ever get crowded, or you want a quieter place to train, head to The Forge, which is one of the country’s largest climbing-specific training facilities, according to Elstner.
The centerpiece of The Forge is a massive 70-degree climbing wall that rises about 30 feet. The space also includes campus boards, a Tension board, and other climbing-specific training tools. If you’re not sure how to use the boards and other equipment, trainers at the Forge can help you out—just ask.
To help improve your overall fitness, The Forge also includes Crossfit and cardio equipment, and the facility is working with personal trainers to develop fitness classes.
Yoga and More
If you want to add yoga to your workout routine, Birmingham Boulders has also begun a series of Ashtanga classes, and there are plans to offer a wider range of classes throughout the week.
Throughout the year, Birmingham Boulders will also offer customer appreciation nights, which allow people to use the gym for free in the evening. "We usually grill out and get local breweries involved," said Elstner.
With all of its programs, the primary goal of Birmingham Boulders is to make all types of people feel welcome, from veteran climbers to people who have never tried the sport before, said Elstner. "It’s not just for hardcore people," she said. “It’s for anybody.”
Originally written for BCBS of AL.