When Bozeman, Montana, was struggling to put on a major ice climbing event, Marcus Garcia of Durango was eager to bring the competition to his town.
Garcia, owner of the Rock Lounge climbing gym, partnered with Ska Brewing Co. to bring the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation/American Alpine Club Ice World Cup and North American Ice Climbing Championships to Durango. The event culminates Saturday with the men’s and women’s finals. It is the first of five World Cup stops this season.
But Garcia, a UIAA Youth Commission member and USA youth coach, has goals that soar above the 40-foot structure he constructed at Ska.
“I want a youth climbing facility and training center and to bring the Olympic program to Durango,” he said. “That’s my main goal. I know I need the city behind me, and we have to show this is a viable sport, and is going to be an Olympic sport.”
Sport climbing was accepted as a new Olympic sport for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. As climbing continues to grow in popularity in the U.S., Garcia has visions of Durango becoming a hub for climbing, whether it’s on rock, ice or both.
“I want to build a permanent structure to host these events summer and winter,” he said. “We have mountain bike trails, ski terrain, biking, kayaking and climbing here. But the tourists don’t know as much about the climbing; we don’t promote climbing as a town.”
Bob Kunkel, director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, expressed excitement about this week’s event and welcomes any increase in visitors. He said 75 percent of Durango’s tourism business comes between May and October, and 10 percent of that business comes from foreign tourists.
This week’s ice climbing event has brought world-class athletes from countries such as Canada, Finland, Italy, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Poland, Slovenia and Switzerland.
“Any kind of PR worldwide Durango can establish is great,” Kunkel said. “I’d love to see this turn into an annual event, and we’d love to see more events, activities and attractions during our shoulder seasons to meet some of those summer numbers.”
The UIAA World Cup isn’t cheap. Garcia came up short of his $50,000 funding goal for this year’s event. On top of $16,000 in prizes for the professional athletes and the cost to build a competition wall, the UIAA has fees and requires travel expenses to bring UIAA judges and route setters. But Garcia is only $7,850 shy of his goal this year and only had four months to prepare. With a full year to plan for next year’s competition, he hopes there is enough interest to easily raise enough money.
Garcia believes building a permanent structure would alleviate costs and make it easier to host more events throughout the year, particularly for younger climbers. He said the development of a strong U.S. youth climbing team is imperative to the sport’s success in the Olympics.
Durango has abundant rock climbing and bouldering areas. Nearby resources such as the Ouray Ice Park and climbing areas in Vail would provide additional venues for USA athletes to train if based in Durango.
“You have to have a viable youth program to have an Olympic sport,” he said. “We’ve done that, and now, we need a place to train. I want to bring it to Durango.”
Cathy Metz, director of Durango Parks and Recreation, said Durango is an Olympic training center for paddling with the whitewater park on the Animas River. She sees no reason climbing won’t be able to do the same.
“We have a history of providing these amenities in Durango,” she said. “We have so many talented athletes here and Olympians training year-round. In general, the city would support an indoor training facility and the recreational experience of climbing.”