High school, college climbing competitions collide in Eagle

Competitive climbers from high schools and colleges around Colorado and New Mexico gathered in Eagle Saturday for climbing events at Eagle Climbing + Fitness.
Paul Joyce | Special to the Daily

EAGLE — Twenty members of the Air Force Academy visited Eagle Climbing + Fitness for the first time on Saturday. For the nine freshmen on the team, it was their first-ever collegiate-level climbing competition.

It was also the first-ever collegiate-level competition to be hosted at Eagle Climbing + Fitness, and is the only local competition on the collegiate climbing calendar to feature both sport climbing and bouldering at the same event in the Rocky Mountain region this year.

The unique event was JoAnne Carilli-Stevenson’s idea; Carilli-Stevenson is the chair of the USA Climbing collegiate series. Carilli-Stevenson said she knew the gym was also hosting a high school climbing event on Saturday, and so she thought it could be an ideal time to host a collegiate competition, as well.

“We’ve got about 50 collegiate athletes here today,” Carilli-Stevenson said on Saturday. “Regis University is here, so is New Mexico Tech.”

Sneak preview for state

On the high school side, Larry Moore with Eagle Climbing + Fitness said more than 200 competitors took to the walls on Saturday.

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For many teams visiting Eagle, Saturday’s event was a sneak preview for the American Scholastic Climbing League state championships, which will also be held in Eagle this season. The high school climbing season runs from November to February. 

Visiting from Ridgeway, coach Lance Sullins said Eagle was the farthest the Ridgeway High School team has traveled in its competitive season so far this year.

“Competing here today will get us ready for state, and we’ll make a road trip back up here to climb again some time before state,” Sullins said.

The Ridgeway team brought seven athletes to Eagle on Saturday. Sullins said the team’s progression has been impressive to watch.

“All these guys that are competing are getting a much better foundation than the kids who just randomly go to the climbing gym,” Sullins said. “There’s a curriculum built around it, which is cool. I’ve been climbing for 20 years, and these guys catch up in two seasons.”

Growing league

The American Scholastic Climbing League was created in 2018 as a spinoff of the Colorado High School Climbing League, which was established in 2008 as a spinoff of an organized climbing effort started in the early ’90s.

A lot of the Ridgeway team, Sullins said, is the kids you might expect — kids who were already interested in climbing. But the fact that there’s a high school climbing league in Colorado has drawn more kids to the sport, as well, Sullins said.

“I think it’s getting more kids involved in climbing, at least in Ridgeway,” Sullins said. “Because we don’t have a commercial climbing gym, but the school has a climbing wall.”

Visiting from Norwood in San Miguel County, coach Olivia Coe said several of the nine athletes she brought were visiting Eagle for the first time.

“I think the option to have climbing be a high school sport has definitely increased participation,” she said.

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