Walking into a Momentum Climbing Gym on a Saturday morning is dizzying. You’re greeted by a colorful array of elite climbers staring into their belay spectacles, couples encouraging each other on top-roped 5.7s, and kids in full-body harnesses bouncing joyfully around the beginner wall, under the careful watch of a camp instructor. This is the past, present, and future of climbing under one roof.
Indoor climbing isn’t new by any stretch. But for decades, it had a very utilitarian role, a way to “make do” when the outdoor crags weren’t available. People settled for homemade assemblies on their garage walls or used scrappy bouldering gyms that smelled of man-musk, chalk-coated plastic, weed, and recycled-tire floor pads.
Now, Momentum is reimagining what a climbing gym can be, with pristine facilities arrayed with top-roped routes, lead routes, bouldering, yoga, fitness machines, on-site experts and instructors, kid-friendly areas, and a finger on the pulse of what climbers are asking for next.
It’s not entirely new; it’s just entirely better. Which is why climbers have welcomed Utah’s three Momentum gyms with (beautifully toned) open arms. The gym started as one location in Sandy , which was nice enough to attract climbers willing to drive from afar. Encouraged, the gym opened a second location in Millcreek last year, anticipating that it should do well based on membership demographics. What they didn’t envision was just how successful it would be.
“We knew it would be popular, given the area and the number of climbers who live there, but it outperformed every expectation,” notes Jon Vickers, the gym’s digital media director. “On an average day, we have 600 members check in to the Millcreek gym alone, not including people who buy day passes and kids attending programs. Sometimes usage spikes well beyond that, too.”
Most recently, the gym also opened a third location in Lehi that caters specifically to boulderers.
Giving Pros What They Want and Newbies What They Need
Momentum feels that, with enough thought and planning, it can serve everyone interested in climbing, from kiddos to adult rookies to pro athletes.
“We want to be accessible to hardcore climbers and also people using rental gear to learn how to belay,” explains Vickers.
The Momentum Climbing School is a particularly valuable program that trains the next generation of climbers—and helps established climbers tighten up their game.
Over the last decades, many climbers’ entry point into the sport was a haphazard one. They usually had to find someone willing to take them—a friend, significant other, a friend of a friend—and learn on old, borrowed gear in uncontrolled environments from people who didn’t necessarily know how to teach. Informal instruction can be a loose operation, for sure.
“The Momentum School makes learning both safe and very accessible. Now you don’t need to find a mentor to take you; we have professionals here and safe equipment available to rent. You can learn everything the right way and develop all the habits you’ll need to climb safely indoors and out,” explains Vickers.
The climbing school also has launched a program called Inside Out, which introduces indoor-trained climbers to the wonders (and protocols) of safely going outside. Students learn the basics on outdoor technique, gear, ethics, sustainability, and impact. Programs like this are an incredibly important means to ensure indoor-trained climbers are a positive addition to the sport—not a danger to themselves and others.
The climbing school has a thriving kids’ program, too. Youth program director Nicole Brandt oversees programs that start with the littlest preschoolers and that teach kids well into their teens. There’s a Youth Club and competitive team catering to the more advanced standouts, putting junior crushers on the path to domination. (For a humbling experience, go watch middle schoolers climb routes well beyond your own ability.)
The Changing Face of Climbing
The gym’s accessibility opens up the sport to many more people and broadens the web of people who call themselves climbers. While this helps popularize the sport, it comes with complex problems, such as the risk that gym-trained climbers will have an exaggerated sense of their own ability when they go outdoors.
“Yes, having more gym-trained climbers out there can shift the culture and dynamic on the outdoor crags for sure, and that comes with pros and cons. But it is definitely breaking down barriers and opening the sport to new talent who otherwise may have never been introduced to it,” says Vickers.
Indeed, it’s logistically easier to learn at a gym. It’s a secure environment where day passes are relatively cheap and a harness can be rented for a few bucks. It’s an extremely efficient way to train up the next generation of expert climbers who will continue pushing the limits of the sport.
And while many climbers see gym climbing as a second-choice alternative to going outdoors, gyms are seeing a rise in climbers who embrace indoor climbing exclusively. Many old-generation climbers are incredulous about this and some see indoor-only climbers as interlopers in a sport flavored by variables like diverse rock textures, changing weather conditions, exposure, and slightly sketchy old bolts.
“It seems odd and new, and maybe it is. But there are a lot of people who love climbing indoors so much that they don’t even go outside. They embrace the logistics and movements of indoor routes, focusing in without the outdoor variables and really getting meticulous and rhythmic about their technique,” Vickers explains.
Momentum spends tremendous time and effort in designing its walls and routes. The walls are specifically angled to be adaptable for routes of a wide range of difficulty levels and feature types. Routes are regularly removed and rotated with new ones, which keeps climbers on their toes. All the routes are conceived and set by people who have climbed all over the world and bring a huge variety of experiences to their approach.
The gym constantly reexamines ways to improve training tools and anticipate climbers’ needs in their environment.
“We’re adding little things like water bottle fountains instead of regular water fountains, adapting and perfecting our training tools, and even added a nice seating area to our Lehi gym for people who want to cozy up and hang out a while studying or socializing,” says Vickers. “We’re trying to extend customer service beyond good routes.”
Beyond These Walls
Momentum continues developing programs and trips beyond its buildings, including ladies-only trips and location-specific trips to places like St. George, Maple Canyon, and even Ouray. The gym partners with Red River Adventures guides on its outdoor trips, which gives groups of climbers the chance to push themselves in fresh places and unexpected ways.
The gym will continue pushing both itself and the sport over the coming years—while continuing to welcome salty old climbers who come in jeans, holey t-shirts, and shoes they bought three presidents ago.