How to Get Into Climbing

Five indoor climbing gyms (and one store) in Calgary, Banff and Canmore with lessons and programs for beginners.

Photo by Shelley Arnusch

Climbing in an indoor gym is a great year-round activity that offers a mix of physicality, adrenaline rush and camaraderie. While technique is definitely important, there’s also an intellectual element to it. Climbers challenge themselves to “solve problems” – that is, complete a specific progression of holds for the hands and feet. If you’re new to climbing, you can tackle a simple problem and still get the sense of accomplishment as you would if you were super experienced and solved a really complex problem.

While top-rope climbing requires a skilled partner, bouldering (climbing without ropes on the low part of the wall overtop of cushy padding) is something you can easily do on your own. But perhaps the coolest thing about indoor climbing is that you can do it no matter what the weather is like outside, making it a particularly great option for active Calgarians. Here are five local spots to check out if you want to give climbing a try:

Calgary Climbing Centre

The CCC offers a variety of beginner lessons and programs at its three locations. In addition to more traditional climbing and bouldering set-ups, the Hanger location out near the airport also has a new ClimbPark – a staff-supervised fun zone that contains 21 vertical challenge elements like a “jump tower,” “maze wall” and “freefall slide.” No experience is required to try the ClimbPark (though there is a weight restriction of 40 to 265 pounds). If you don’t have your own gear you can rent climbing shoes ($4.76), chalk bags ($2.86) and more on site (Note: ClimbPark doesn’t require climbing shoes).

Three locations, 588 Aero Drive N.E., 140 15 Ave. N.W. and 7130 Fisher Rd. S.E.; 587-230-0189,

Canmore Elevation Place

Canmore is a mecca for climbers, so it’s not surprising that the Town of Canmore’s recreation centre contains extensive indoor climbing and bouldering facilities. Elevation Place offers more than 100 colour-coded routes for climbers of all abilities. There are also beginner lessons and on-site gear rentals. Kids as young as four are welcome to climb (adult supervision is required for those under 13) but if you’d rather climb without the kids, Elevation Place also has drop-in child-minding for kids aged six months to seven years old, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.

700 Railway Ave., Canmore, 1-403-678-8920,

The Crux Climbing and Bouldering

In climbing-speak “the crux” is the most difficult part of a climb. With its 72-foot wall, this Calgary gym claims to be one of the tallest in North America, so there are plenty of challenging problems for experienced climbers to solve. Beginners can take an introduction course with a six-to-one student-to-instructor ratio. The course registration price includes shoe rentals and day-pass fee.

1415 28 Ave. N.E., 403-235-2789,

MEC Calgary

Of course, MEC is where you can pick up all the gear you need for climbing, but they also have a climbing wall right in the store that you can try for free. Climbing times are on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. (the store lists the Try Out Climbing dates on its website, so check there to see when the next one is). MEC provides the climbing shoes and a supervising staff member to get you harnessed in correctly and up the wall. You should also keep tabs on MEC’s Facebook page, which recently offered a free climbing clinic with Squamish-based MEC ambassador and climber extraordinaire Sarah Hart to a lucky group of gals during the recent Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.

830 10 Ave. S.W., 403-269-2420,

Outdoor Centre at the University of Calgary

The Outdoor Centre on the University of Calgary campus opened its climbing wall back in 1986, making it the first sport-climbing facility in the city. The current offerings at the OC include a 13-metre climbing wall and a bouldering area, both of which are open to the general public (you don’t have to be a student or professor to use the Outdoor Centre). Newbies can learn to boulder with a six-week crash course. The OC also offers a circuit-style “Boulderfit” program that uses bouldering and resistance training to build the kind of strength you need to be a better climber, or just a more ripped human being. You can rent all the gear you need through the OC’s gear-rental department.

University of Calgary Campus, 2500 University Dr. N.W., 403-220-5038,

Sally Borden Fitness and Recreation Centre at the Banff Centre

You don’t have to be staying on campus at the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity to use the facilities at the Sally Borden Fitness and Recreation centre. The Sally Borden’s climbing gym is the only indoor climbing facility in Banff with programming for kids and adults. Public climbing is offered daily from noon to 10 p.m. Drop-in rates are $15 for adults ($8 for youth aged four to 15) and gear rentals are available on site. The drop-in fee includes use of the centre’s pool, jacuzzi and steam room so you can relax your tired forearms afterwards.

107 Tunnel Mountain Drive, Banff, 1-403-762-6100,

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