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Now open: The Minneapolis Bouldering Project

Updated: November 29, 2017 - 11:28 am

Founder envisions the gym — opening Nov. 28 — as a home base for local climbers

The latest gym to open in Minneapolis caters to bouldering, a climbing sport that’s growing internationally.

The Minneapolis Bouldering Project features an indoor climbing gym where people of all ages climb 18-foot-high walls without a need for ropes or harnesses. Co-founder Will Hanson, a Minneapolis native who has opened similar gyms in Austin and Seattle, says bouldering, which is set to make its Olympic debut in 2020, offers a less intimidating, more approachable form of climbing that is taking off, especially with kids.

“They don’t have to take a belay test. They don’t have to have a partner belay them. They don’t need to learn knots or technical equipment. They really can just come and experience it, which is nice because it tends to remove that barrier,” he said.

The 40,000-square-foot gym is set to open Nov. 28 at the back of a nondescript warehouse building in the Near North neighborhood. The building, located just outside the North Loop and Sheridan neighborhoods, is home to Pryes Brewing.

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Roughly 20,000 square feet of the gym is dominated by colored climbing walls towering over 16-inch foam floors that keep climbers safe if they fall. Climbers take to “roots” or boulders to solve “problems” or climbing scenarios, which are colored by difficulty with yellow, red and green meant for beginners and white, pink and blue for experienced climbers.

Around the corner, there’s a corridor specifically designed for young climbers, which Hanson said make up the fastest growing age group in bouldering.

“They tend to be such naturals at it. They’re lightweight and fearless. With every age, but with kids especially, if you can give them a taste of success where they got to the top of something… it’s really impactful,” he said.

Kids at the Minneapolis Bouldering Project will have their own hangout space where parents can also watch from a distance. A connected climbing room is meant for children’s birthday parties or events.

Bouldering is great for young people because it offers an alternative to team sports where some may not thrive, Hanson said. Kids can go onto compete where they can get that experience working with others.

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Creating these problems is more complex than it looks. Ayo Sopeju, the lead setter at the gym, said while tall people may have an early natural advantage, he uses the modular walls to create challenges for all body types. Boulders can have various textures, sizes and shapes to keep climbers on their toes.

“In the long run, the ideal is to make everything unfair equally,” Sopeju said.

The gym will take down the boulders about every six weeks to wash them and keep the walls refreshing to members. For competitions, the gym will take them all down to make sure members don’t have an unfair advantage over their competitors.

Half of the gym is devoted to non-climbing activities and locker room facilities. There’s a yoga studio, a weight room and a room for fitness classes where members can work out when they’re not climbing. The gym will host several yoga, climbing and other classes each day.

“I do really hope that some people will come in and be really excited about the yoga and find the climbing, and a lot of people will find the climbing and get into the yoga,” Hanson said.

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Even for experienced climbers, the sport can be tough on their bodies and these other uses provide a space to develop breathing, flexibility, strength and positioning. When Hanson, an experienced climber, hurt a finger and couldn’t climb, he turned to yoga to keep training.

“It was actually pretty eye-opening for me. I came back a stronger climber after taking six months off,” he said.

A lounge on a lofted floor gives members room to work, socialize or eat available grab-and-go food like sandwiches, cold brew coffee and kombucha. A retail wall in the front offers protein bars, chalk and apparel.

“We found that a lot of our members don’t have that classic 9 to 5 anymore,” he said. “They’ll come in and do a climbing session, work on their laptop a couple hours and then they’ll take a yoga class.”

The gym offers monthly memberships starting at $56 for children and $68 for adults, $12-$18 day passes and punch cards. The sticky rubber climbing shoes worn by a majority of climbers are available in any size for $4 per day, though they’re free for first-time guests.

The Minneapolis Bouldering Project, at 1433 West River Road N., is open 6 a.m.–11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m.–10 p.m. on weekends.

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