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Photo by Michael Trudeau

New Calgary climbing facility provides a challenging and rewarding workout

By Danielle Grant, February 15 2018 — 

Most people are familiar with the style of rock climbing that utilizes a harness and ropes to scale rock formations or artificial cliff faces. Bouldering is similar but ditches the gear. It’s named after the tradition of climbing boulders scattered at the base of high mountains. Indoor bouldering facilities mimic this, allowing climbers to practise difficult moves at safe distances from the ground. Indoors or outdoors, the sport is spellbinding. It demands strong focus and coordination but it’s easy to meet new people while doing it. Bouldering is also a great way to build strength and flexibility without any lavish equipment or training — just a sturdy pair of shoes and some hand chalk.

Last spring, an unexpected injury heavily impacted my cycling obsession. Like a lot of students, I struggle to balance academics, work, a social life and my health. My injury made me antsy on top of it. While searching for a new athletic outlet, I stumbled upon bouldering and became hooked. My newfound love of climbing is largely thanks to Bolder Climbing Community, a bouldering specific indoor climbing gym that opened in Calgary last year. The open-concept facility is artfully designed with a clean aesthetic. Its black and turquoise colour scheme is warmed by lots of natural light. A full café offering their own signature roasted coffee further livens the atmosphere.

Zak McGurk, one of the gym’s three owners, says Bolder is a casual facility where all are welcome to come and learn new skills.

“The vision for the gym was to create a space where people wanted to come and hang out, have coffee and climb,” McGurk explained.

He highlighted that Bolder is both a training facility and space that fosters community and positivity.


Photo by Ben Fenton

Photo by Ben Fenton

“The open concept can be a little bit intimidating to some. They don’t want to feel watched while climbing,” he said. “On the flip side, we wanted to break down those intimidation barriers by having new climbers be able to climb side-by-side with some of the best athletes in Calgary.”

The openness largely contributes to the gym’s communal feeling.

“It doesn’t matter how good of a climber you are, everybody is going through the same process of trying to go from the starting holds to the finishing holds,” McGurk said.

In addition to its community-building potential, bouldering is a full-body workout that requires a lot of creativity to finish a route. McGurk says that common misconceptions about climbing may throw off new climbers.

“Everyone thinks it’s about upper-body strength, but it’s a lot about placing your feet, balancing your weight and generating momentum,” McGurk said.

As a self-professed cardio junkie, I’ve never adhered to a strength-training regime. However, climbing meshes cardio and strength training, helping to build muscle while raising your heart rate. But beyond the bicep and abdominal work, climbing is mentally engaging. Working on a tricky hold or maneuver demands your whole attention and pauses your endless mental to-do list.

On the last Friday of every month, the facility hosts Bolder Beats where you can climb to tracks spun by local DJs. It’s a great alternative to clubbing and could be a unique date option if you want to make an extra good impression.

Before 1 p.m. Monday to Friday, drop-in sessions at Bolder are $10. Outside of that window, drop-in fees are $15 for students and monthly student memberships are $55. The gym, located just off 53rd Ave. and First St. SE, is an eight-minute walk from Chinook CTrain station. For more information about Bolder Climbing Community, click here.


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