An Inside Look at USA Climbing’s National Team Training Center

The new facility is purpose-built to help American climbers compete on the international stage and prepare for the Olympics
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A spray wall at the USA Climbing Training Center with a patriotic array of holds.

A spray wall at the USA Climbing Training Center with a patriotic array of holds.

Over the past several months, as the specifics of how climbing will work at the 2020 Olympics have come into focus, members on the American national team have been hard at work training the requisite combined disciplines of bouldering, lead, and speed. The competitors’ singular goal has been to qualify for the Olympics—and one of them, Brooke Raboutou, has already done that. The new facility that has continually aided members of the team in their Olympic ambitions is the National Team Training Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Competition fans have known about the Training Center for quite some time, but only vaguely. When USA Climbing announced last year that it was relocating from Boulder, Colorado, to Salt Lake City, the first public mention of the facility’s plans was made: “Once established, we look to create a National Training Center, where our National Team athletes can regularly train to compete at the highest levels internationally,” read a USA Climbing press release at the time. But as collective focus quickly turned to USA Climbing’s various national championships in 2019, updates about the supposed facility were hard to come by. Then, perfectly timed with the kickoff of the Olympic hype and the release of the Olympics’ qualification schedule, images suddenly started to appear of Americans training at the facility. Seemingly out of nowhere, the national team had an exclusive, state-of-the-art gym for the first time in the history of American competition climbing.

While the facility lacks a full speed wall, athletes use 20-foot sections of the route for training.

While the facility lacks a full speed wall, athletes use 20-foot sections of the route for training.

The new facility is located near downtown Salt Lake City, mere blocks from USA Climbing’s offices. The space measures 11,500 square feet in total. Packed into that expanse are 200 feet of bouldering surface from Entre-Prises, including a slab section and an overhanging spray wall. Although the Training Center does not house a full-scale speed climbing route, a 20-foot section of wall has been fit with isolated speed climbing holds to mimic certain speed sequences. Also within the facility are two adjustable system boards from Grasshopper Industries—compatible with Moon, Tension, and Kilter brands. Cushioning all of these amenities is floor padding provided by Flashed.

The Training Center is not open to the public, so the total package serves as an impressive sanctuary, of sorts, for those athletes who are allowed to use it. There are restaurants and cafes within easy walking distance too, so the American team can—and does—sometimes turn grueling training sessions into all-day affairs. The Training Center is staffed by the national team’s head coach, Josh Larson, and the team’s manager and assistant coach, Meg Coyne, which adds to the national aura and highly specific workouts.

Having a dedicated facility allows coaches to set routes to train specific skills such as coordination climbing.

Having a dedicated facility allows coaches to set routes to train specific skills such as coordination climbing.

“One of the biggest reasons we decided to have a Training Center is so we can have a ‘home base’—and with that comes the freedom to do what we feel is best for our athletes on whatever terrain we need, whenever we want,” says Larson of the facility’s purpose. “For example, we can go into the Training Center anytime and set up circuits or even mock-competition rounds specifically for our athletes and what they need to work on. Then the athletes can come in anytime for as long as they need—and we can work together on what is there, make tweaks to boulders right there with them, etc. Having the freedom, wall space, and the volume/hold selection that we have as USA Climbing is something we can’t really access in commercial gyms.”

Larson notes that it would not be feasible or respectful for the national team to go into a commercial gym, strip huge sections of a wall, and then set boulders that only the team members could utilize. Beyond that, it takes a lot of time for routesetters and coaches to fine-tune boulders and circuits to the optimal level for the United States’ best climbers—and an exclusive training facility allows for that.

“Recently one of our national team athletes contacted us and wanted to come to Salt Lake City for some general training, but more importantly, they wanted to work on dynamic coordination movements,” explains Larson. “So we came up with a plan on how to best offer this and went into the Training Center and set up a coordination wall and boulder problems customized to their needs. It’s super fun to be able to create blocs for them in front of them so they can see what the process is like—basically they can see firsthand how setters try to ‘mess you up’ as competitors.”

A system wall (right) for performing drills.

A system wall (right) for performing drills.

The Training Center is fully operational, but it is still a work in progress. USA Climbing is entertaining the idea of opening up the facility to the public at certain times, if logistics could be arranged. Also, Larson notes that other gyms in Salt Lake City have been particularly accommodating of national team athletes needing certain accoutrements that the Training Facility cannot offer—such as a full speed wall. “The exchange is going really well and we love having supportive gyms and owners in town that care for our team too,” says Larson. “The climbing community reaches out in so many ways and it really makes our sport so special.”