Virtual Send

Here’s how climbing and gym communities across the country are staying strong and united despite Covid-19.

photo by Henna Taylor / Courtesy of No Man’s Land Film Festival

According to Climbing Business Journal nearly 600 climbing gyms nationwide have closed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and to abide by social distancing guidelines. Loveland, Colorado’s Climbing Wall Summit was canceled. The American Alpine Club closed its facilities and asked climbers to refrain from non-essential travel. Climbing, indoors and out, entered a never-before-seen holding pattern. 

The pressing question on everyone’s mind: How long will the COVID-19 shutdown last—and will there be resurgence? Climbing culture fundamentally thrives on creating community within place. Gyms depend on a steady revenue stream to survive closures. To help, the Climbing Wall Association created a petition advocating for federal emergency stimulus funds. And industry leaders launched new collaborative ways for climbers, gyms, crags, and communities to stay healthy and connected. 

The inaugural Virtual No Man’s Land Film Festival (NMLFF) is one such connection. With screening co-hosted by the Boulder Climbing Community (BCC), the free 90-minute show garnered $5,000 in suggested donations from 800 viewers. The funds will support BCC stewardship work ranging from building sustainable approach trails to rebolting crags and supplying wag bags in popular climbing areas.

“This creative fundraiser allows our organization to keep functioning and lets people engage with their community while being entertained,” says BCC spokesperson Billy Dixon: “In-person events are amazing for personal connection, but I hope that virtual events also become a trend. We can gather more people than we could ever handle at a movie theater, which fits 200 people. This is an incredible way to sync people across the world who wouldn’t otherwise convene.” 

Viewers had a five-hour window to preview the films but were encouraged to tune-in at a specific time for trivia with swag giveaways. Post pilot program, BCC co-led a second event, and NMLFF debuted a four-day virtual festival. Then, the scope grew: NMLFF partnered with climbing gyms, clubs, and philanthropic organizations around the globe to host tailored virtual film shows that can simultaneously financially support essential issues from human health to the environment. 

Beyond the screen, other pioneers banded together, too. Eldorado Climbing, a climbing wall manufacturer in Louisville, Colo., invited customers to choose a climbing gym for up to 30-percent of the sales revenue to be donated. At shoe brand Butora, 35-percent of each shoe sold went to a choice climbing gym, too. El Cap—the parent company of Earth Treks, Planet Granite, and Movement—held the Chalk Bag Fund online auction of climbing gear and in-gym climbing courses. The drive supported their employees nationwide from Portland to Denver to Baltimore. Many gyms launched online workouts, and California’s Touchstone Climbing kicked-off a Challenge-in-Place on Instagram with creative, intellectual objectives like “Take a Honnolding-in-your-home photo,” alluding to the capture of Alex Honnold petrified on a ledge, 1,700-feet up Half Dome.

As Dixon says, “From business partners to communities, climbers as a whole have really come together, supported each other, and found ways to help humankind.”

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