Facing the Struggles of AHS’ Rock Wall

Members of the AHS climbing team competing during November 2019. (Skier Scribbler Archives)

At the beginning of COVID, the Aspen climbing club was unable to continue due to lack of access to an adequate training facility, but now, students and teachers are aiming to restart the club by building a wall and aim for a competitive team next season.

With the start of COVID, most gyms nationwide closed down, and climbing gyms were hit harder than most as the whole sport revolves around shared surfaces. Monkey House Carbondale, a local gym right near downtown Carbondale, was forced to close to the public over quarantine, and the gym was in serious danger of closing completely because of a lack of income. However, out of this difficult situation, the idea for a home wall in the Skier Dome was born.

Not only would the club practice on this wall, but it could be used by the Aspen Mountain Guide School class for students to get their rock climbing certifications, and for 8th graders to practice rappelling before their outdoor education trip.

The proposed wall will be built in the AHS Skier Dome. (Skier Scribbler Archives)

The wall could be incredibly beneficial, but the Skier Dome where it is supposed to be built in isn’t up to modern code and won’t be able to support the wall without a retrofit. The floor isn’t rated to hold the massive wall, and the wall has to be completed by the end of the fiscal year, June 31st, or AHS will lose funding.

The wall was proposed for the Innovation Grant, which is a grant that any school with a Career Tech Education (CTE) program can apply for. However, there is a caveat to the $200,000 dollar grant for the new wall and bike tech class. Everything has to be finished or paid for by the end of the fiscal year. Brent Maiolo, a science teacher at AHS, planned for the wall to be used to do everything from expose students to the sport of rock climbing, to help students get their rock climbing certifications. The old middle school used to have a wall, but when the building was rebuilt, the climbing wall was destroyed.

“Instead of bringing just a climbing wall back to the district that the elementary, middle, and high school kids can use, I would love to offer a climbing class somewhere down the road,” Maiolo said.

The wall was to be delivered before spring break, and everything was running smoothly, so AHS hired an engineer to assess the Skier Dome where the wall is to be installed. Immediately they ran into a problem.

Sarah Strassburger, the AHS principal, looked to see what could be done. Supports needed to be added under the floor so the wall could be supported.

“We were told that at the moment, it wasn’t up to code and what the issue is, is that the skier dome was built in 1967, codes were different. So nobody’s gonna fall through the floor. But we need to have it be that kind of load bearing.” Strassburger said.

A diagram detailing the planned size and angles of the wall including the color scheme. (Photo courtesy of Eldorado Walls)

The USA is in the midst of a massive labor shortage as well as supply chain issues. Eldorado Walls, who is supplying the wall and holds, was initially concerned about not getting the supplies in time to have the wall delivered by the end of the fiscal year, but luckily, that was not a problem in the end. The more potent issue is the lack of workers to retrofit the floor.

​​Because of the labor shortage to get the supports underneath the flooring to support something as heavy as the climbing wall, it’s going to take a little while. I hope it’s completed this summer,  Sheri Smith, the head of the CTE department at AHS, said.

So far, the wall will be delivered and paid for by the end of June so funding isn’t lost, but prospects on when it will actually be installed vary from the end of summer to the fall of 2022.The worrying part for athlete climbers and coaches is that the wall will not be installed by September when climbing competitions start.

The wall could also be used for the Aspen Mountain Guide School class. (Skier Scribbler Archive)

The American Scholastic Climbing League (ASCL) holds the first qualifiers in late September, and the USA Climbing (USAC) league holds the first qualifiers in October. If the team doesn’t have a wall to train and learn on, Maiolo’s hopes for an Aspen climbing team competing in State or regional competitions could fall apart.

The wall still has a significant purpose without a club or team, however. The Aspen Mountain Guide School Class has long awaited a wall to use to complete their rock climbing certifications, and the wall would allow students to get the only one they don’t have at the end of the class right now. It exposes students to climbing and can build their experience and knowledge of the sport.

“It also really grew out of part of Maiolo’s Aspen Mountain Guide School class that has a climbing certification. So to really help kids get those skills, in terms of climbing, because so many people here are such avid climbers,” Strassburger said.

In a recent update, the wall has been downsized and relocated to Aspen Middle School.

Updated on June 2.