Rock climbing is having a moment.
Next year, rock climbing will make its premiere in the Olympics. In January, the USA Climbing National Championships was broadcast on ESPN for the first time. The climbing documentary "Free Solo" just won an Oscar.
In 2015, there were 388 climbing gyms in the United States; in 2018, there were 507, according to Climbing Business Journal. Climbing has become serious business.
Because of the recent craze surrounding this sport, Ammon Hartner was not surprised The Edge Climbing and Fitness, the largest climbing gym in Idaho, has done well since he opened it two years ago in Ammon. The only surprising thing to him was that the Idaho Falls area didn’t get a gym sooner.
“It’s amazing exercise, it’s a lot of fun, and a really social, energetic, happy kind of place and activity to do and so people get addicted to the whole vibe,” Hartner said.
Yet, Hartner said, despite the popularity of the gym, where membership has increased every year, opening The Edge wasn’t about the success.
“I just came to a point in life where lifestyle and the type of business I wanted to be involved in was far more important than the amount of money it might bring in,” he said.
The opening of the Idaho Falls area’s first climbing gym sparked an interest in people who had never thought about the sport before.
“We have a lot of regulars and members that are completely passionate about climbing — it might be their No. 1 hobby — but (they) had never climbed before the gym opened,” Hartner said.
For many of The Edge's members, the social aspect is just as much a part of the draw as the sport itself. Hartner explained that, because you need a partner to hold your rope for you as you climb, it’s very common for people to interact with strangers. Climbers often take turns on different routes and give each other tips and encouragement in between.
“This place ends up being more than just where people exercise; it’s their social outlet as well,” Hartner said. “At more traditional gyms, people don’t want to be bothered; they have their headphones in.”
Member Jake Rowberry sees the gym as a place for family bonding as well.
“I have five boys. It’s a way to get everyone in our family out doing something that’s not on a screen,” he said.
In fact, youth are a large part of the scene at The Edge. The gym has three youth programs: the after-school club, a recreational team and competition team. The competition team competes all across Idaho and Utah.
“It’s a good way for kids to push themselves, but with collective support as a community,” Rowberry said. “It’s not the pressure you see in, say, football. In some sports, there’s a lot of pressure put on the kids and it can get to a point where I think it’s unhealthy. I haven’t seen that here.”
Ninth-grader Lauren Snyder, who competes on the competition team, echoed the amount of support she receives from her team.
“All of us are pretty tightly bound,” she said. “If someone’s having trouble, we know how to help them, and it’s kind of just everyone feeding off each other’s energy. It’s really cool.”
And though you will find plenty of young people scaling the walls, with the youngest climbing member being just 2 years old, you will find people of all ages and walks of life at The Edge. The oldest member is 77. In between, you’ll find kindergartners, college students, doctors, engineers and bartenders.
“It’s a place where people who might not normally interact come together to support each other at this thing we all love,” Hartner said.
The Edge is located at 2844 14th N. in Ammon and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Visit edgeclimbinggym.com for more information.