In Dryden, a new gym climbs over COVID obstacles
ITHACA, NY – As vaccines steadily enter the arms of populations, businesses in Ithaca and Tompkins County are slowly emerging from their COVID-related slump. In Keith Liao’s case, the statement is literal.
Liao is the business owner and operator of Cayuga climbs, which seeks to be Tompkins County’s first rock-climbing gym open to the entire community. With an MBA from Cornell, Liao was able to return to the area when his consulting work with the National Park Service in Denver enabled him to work remotely. Her fiancé Beth is working on her doctor of veterinary medicine, so he made the trip east.
It was after his return that he realized that life in Ithaca is different when you are not a student. On the one hand, Cornell’s Lindseth Climbing Center at Bartels Hall is for students only, and even before COVID, openings for faculty, staff and other affiliates were quite limited..
“When I was doing my MBA, I was rock climbing at Cornell’s climbing gym,” Liao said. “It’s a great gym, I met some really good friends there, but now that I’ve graduated I can’t really access it very well, it’s difficult, especially with COVID. I thought to myself that other people probably had the same problem and that there isn’t really a gym in Ithaca accessible to everyone, so I figured I would build my own gym and make it available to everyone.
“Going to the Lindseth climbing gym, it was absolutely crowded before COVID. From 5pm to 10pm, really whenever they were open it was crazy. Even the Cornell community alone needs a bigger space, and that doesn’t include the local community or Ithaca College, or even Cortland. I would go up to Syracuse, the Central Rock gym, to climb, and a lot of people that would go there are from Ithaca, people will drive over an hour to climb in the gym. Overall, Ithaca is a beautiful outdoor town, with some great hiking and mountain biking. You have that personality, but people who might be interested in climbing, there isn’t a good opportunity to climb outdoors here, but there should be a good opportunity to climb indoors here.
Liao wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea for a climbing gym in Tompkins County. Working with ReachWorks, the Lansing Ice Rink had plans for a wall and even had a zoning deviation from the town of Lansing to erect it. The survey points were inside and fences had been erected before the project was canceled, not because of lack of demand, but because of funding concerns.
Liao said he was aware of the problems with the rink plan, but actually saw it as a positive. “It’s a really good sign. On the one hand, someone else thought it was a good idea. Also, they came up with the idea of a much bigger, much more ambitious gym. I met some of the people who were tangentially involved in it, it was a much bigger investment. “
So we go into the weeds a bit, or rocky nooks and crannies if you want. The rink’s proposal was a 50-foot-tall, Olympic-scale vertical climbing wall, which many readers think of when they think of a climbing hall. But this is not the only type of climbing gym. There is also bouldering, which uses bottom walls in a variety of configurations, vertical walls in cave-like configurations with overhangs and arches. These arrangements generally do not require the use of ropes and harnesses. The walls of Cayuga Climbs face the block and will be approximately 15 feet high and approximately 140 feet wide. When you let go, you land on 14 inch thick padded mats.
From a business-pragmatic standpoint, one of the strengths of a bouldering gymnasium is that you don’t need to build a custom structure that probably requires variations in height from the city’s zoning – all of it. a decent sized warehouse structure will do. In Liao’s case, Cayuga Climbs found a home in a newly built warehouse at 53 Hall Road in the town of Dryden, next to the former Vanguard Printing House. In something of an unexpected bonus, the neighbors include Ultimate Cheer and Tumble cheerleader gymnastics and training and batting cages HitZ Baseball and Softball Coaching, therefore, it is a natural group of recreational sports and fitness companies. Liao says he and the HitZ owner are already talking about collaborations to make it easier for customers to move from one company to another.
“The moment I walked into the Hall Road property, I thought to myself, ‘This is awesome’. I had visited a few other places. I had looked at Ithaca Mall, they offered me a great deal on the prices, but not necessarily a place I could imagine rock climbers. There was easy parking, but the space was not big enough and it’s not the right atmosphere for climbers, while this warehouse is really big, it has more space than I had initially need so I can stretch out, and it looks like a climbing spot.
Liao says that in addition to the bouldering experience, Cayuga Climbs will offer a retail store for climbing shoes, weightlifting equipment and table tennis while customers take breaks between climbs. About half of the leased warehouse space will be built to begin with, with expansion dependent on community response and membership growth. To help manage Cayuga Climbs, Liao hired four part-time employees to “make sure they provide the right experience by creating a welcoming atmosphere” that appeals to both beginners and serious climbers. When it opens, CDC guidelines will be the rule; masks will be required and capacity will be limited as advised by COVID-19 guidelines.
So Cayuga Climbs will have over 2,000 square feet of wall, and while that may seem like enough to keep you busy for a while, eventually you have to find a way to keep customers engaged and wanting to come back. Ultimately, the trick is in the climbers’ holds screwed into the walls; they can be rearranged in countless ways with a variety of shapes and handles. “We’re going to reset the routes about once a week for different sections. My gym will have a straight section, an inclined section, and a section designed to resemble a cave. At any point there will be a new route, and it may take a few weeks to figure out how to find a new route. But we’ll also do beginner’s lessons, a private rental package, and 20-30 minute lessons so climbers can get advice and not wonder what to do, ”Liao said.
According to Liao, May 1 is the scheduled opening date. The wall framing is being assembled, and then the wall panels themselves need to be installed. If things are a bit ahead of schedule, they can have a smooth opening at the end of April or arrange tours for potential members. In addition to his veterinary studies, Liao’s fiancé helped after hours to drill the 14,000 holes drilled and the screws turned to put these walls in place.
But, this also raises an important question; she’ll be finishing her degree at some point, and for many couples, it’s the end of their time in Ithaca. So what does this mean for Cayuga Climbs?
“That’s a great point,” Liao said when asked. “It is sponsored by the US military, so we will have to relocate to service our country, right?” But we will try to be within driving distance and come back. I will finally try to find a general manager, to promote one of my collaborators. It’s an important thing, I think, to have the ability to move forward and not to work indefinitely at the receiving end.
For those wishing to try Cayuga Climbs, inquiries and questions can be submitted on their website. here. “I want to stress that this will be an inclusive climbing community. With ropes you have to have a partner, you associate with each other and not meet other people. But with the boulder, you climb it and rest and sit as a group, at least before COVID. I think it’s a great opportunity to meet people who are interested in the same thing, ”Liao said.
“When it comes to problem solving, you’re working against that, and changing a little thing can get you to the top. You work on it with like-minded people, you talk about it and you understand it. This is how I met a lot of my friends, it really helps me develop friendships.