Numerology: Elevation Indoors

Climbing gyms continue to boom. Here are the raw numbers behind the trend.

The most impressive young stars in the climbing world—Kai Lightner, Margot Hayes, Ashima Shiraishi—did not start their careers high up in the alpine, but inside. That’s really not a surprise since indoor climbing facilities have boomed, showing up everywhere from college campuses to the hearts of urban wastelands. With inclusion in the Olympics coming up, climbing is no longer a sport just for outsiders. And while indoor walls may never have the aesthetic beauty, deep spiritual challenges and romantic appeal of high peaks, they do bring new faces into the fold, especially in locations and communities that were once shut out of the mountain sport. That’s good in the long run for all climbers indoors and out.

The reality is that indoor climbing creates more outdoor climbers. “The experiences offered in the gym translate to a passion that often leads to trips outside. Indoor climbers end up going outside, whether it’s to the crags or to pursue a different outdoor activity like hiking or skiing,” says  Renee DeAngelis, COO of El Cap, the parent company of Earth Treks and Planet Granite, which merged in late 2017 to create the nation’s largest climbing gym chain. “Where gyms have an opportunity to grow the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts is to not just teach climbing but show the importance of giving back to our communities and to the organizations who protect the areas where we love to go adventure.” 

With all that in mind, we take a look at the numbers behind the surge in indoor climbing. 

5 million

The total number of people in North America who spend some time climbing indoors.


The total number of commercial indoor climbing facilities in the U.S. and

Canada, according to the Climbing Wall Association’s (CWA) 2018 Indoor Climbing Industry Report. California claims the most operations with 70. Gyms are popping up at a rapid pace with 53 new facilities putting climbers on belay in North America in 2017 and 60 projected to have opened in 2018. According to the CWA, these findings reinforce anecdotal evidence suggesting that newer facilities offer more amenities like yoga, fitness, speed walls and youth teams, which are vital for the future of competition climbing.


The number of distinct North American Indoor Climbing Organizations (an organization is a business entity that could operate multiple facilities) identified by the CWA. Half of those opened in 2011 or later.

$1 Billion

Indoor climbing is projected to be a billion dollar industry by 2021. It will be a steady ascent: According to the CWA, the projected total for 2018 industry income is $711.0 million. The projected 2019 industry income is $822.5 million. The projected 2020 industry income is  $951.6 million.


The percentage of climbing gym facility operators who see a strong or mild opportunity for member growth, according to the CWA. Seventy percent see a strong or mild outlook for program growth.


The average number of adult members at your local climbing gym. These facilities also report an average of 197 youth members. A total of 43 percent of facilities offer child, teen or youth membership of some type.


Average gross income during the first 12 months of climbing facilities opening after 2012, according to the CWA. The new gyms also project an increase of more than 50 percent  in 2018 annual gross income and were more likely to operate three facilities (31 percent  vs. 11 percent of those that opened earlier) and offer larger spaces (18,146 vs. 12,428 average square feet).


The year Richard Johnston and Dan Cauthorn opened Vertical World (called The Vertical Club at the time), the first indoor climbing gym in the United States. With a $14,000 budget, the pair of climbing bums began by literally gluing rocks onto sheets of plywood in a rundown warehouse in Seattle.


Square footage of Earth Treks new Englewood location, which makes it the largest indoor facility in the world. With 50-foot-high walls, over 500 routes and four full-time route setters on staff, the airport-hanger-sized gym, located on the old corporate headquarters of now-defunct Sports Authority, rivals some of the best outdoor climbing areas in Colorado with the variety it offers to climbers of all ability levels.


Cost for the six-session Girls Lead for Life program at Earth Treks in Englewood, Colorado. The program for girls in fifth, sixth and seventh grade is run by Women’s Wilderness and teaches these young women skills on the rock as well as how to use what they learn climbing when they make the difficult transition into middle school.


Meters climbed on an indoor wall in 51 minutes and 56 seconds by Andrew Dahir in September, setting the Guiness World Record for most vertical attained in one hour, and beating the previous mark by 128 meters. Dahir, who also holds the fastest time to climb a vertical mile at 1:51:37, was originally out to break the fastest time to climb the 8,848-meter height of Mount Everest, a record set by Californian TIm Klein who did it in nine hours, 26 minutes and 15 seconds in 2016. However, Dahir does hold the record for indoor Everest as part of a team with the  Climbing Society at Texas A&M University-Commerce who knocked it off in four hours, 24 minutes and 33 seconds in 2013.


Time it took the Persian Cheetah, Iranian climber Reza Alipour Shenazandifar, to set the world record to scale a 15-meter wall at a speed climbing competition in 2017. 


Year that the Tokyo Olympics will feature climbing as an event for the first time in the history of the games. Male and female athletes will compete in speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing. Medals will be awarded according to the best score in all three events combined. 

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