New Bellingham climbing gym prepares for July 13 opening


BELLINGHAM - Local residents soon will have the opportunity to get in a climbing workout any time of the day or night.

Vital Climbing Gym is scheduled to open at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 13, at 1421 N. State St., in the former Mount Baker Harley Davidson space.

Those familiar with the building when Harley Davidson was in the space may be surprised by all of the renovations in the past six months: The wooden flooring on the main floor was removed, creating a 30-foot high area with about 4,900 square feet of climbing walls. The removed wood was reused in a variety of ways, including for countertops.

The climbing walls are up to 17 feet high, with padding on the floors to allow for bouldering, or climbing without ropes, said Kaili Koo, manager of the gym.

For members, the gym will be available 24 hours a day and will rely on an honor system overnight. After 9 p.m. members will use a key code system with no staff on hand, although some monitoring will take place, including "watchdogs," or people who pop in at random hours to make sure the gym is being run properly.

"Our goal is to have the climbing community running the gym after hours," said Koo, who added that the gym will be staffed 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, when nonmembers can drop in. "We wanted to create a business where people have the opportunity to make the right decision, rather than put a bunch of rules in place."

Vital Climbing has two other gyms in California, and Koo said the system works well. Those gyms have had instances where members try to abuse the system, but they have their memberships quickly revoked. Having the honor system allows the gym to keep costs down, which means savings for customers: Membership fees are $45 a month.

"Other members tend to quickly step up and let the staff know if there's a problem," Koo said. "It creates a tight-knit community, where climbers are willing to help."

Bouldering is becoming more popular because participants don't need much equipment and it's a great form of exercise, Koo said. While tennis shoes are allowed, the gym has climbing shoes available for rent for those new to the sport.

Once Vital Climbing Gym is open, Koo said they plan on being active in the community, hosting clinics and classes for children and adults. The gym will be available for other events, including birthday parties.

Membership signups will begin during the July 13 grand opening, which will have shoe demonstrations, music, food and a raffle. For more information, call 360-399-6248, visit or email

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or Read his business blog at or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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