Gripped - - NORTHERN FACES - Gripped

Jean Marc de la Plante is in­volved with four climb­ing gyms in four prov­inces in Canada. From the East to West Coast, his ef­forts have helped cre­ate fun in­door climb­ing spa­ces for thou­sands of Cana­di­ans. He has long been in­volved with Allez Up in Mon­treal and his sec­ond gym was Seven Bays Boul­der­ing in Halifax. In 2016, he be­came co-owner of Boul­derHouse Climb­ing i n Vic­to­ria and i n Jan­uary of this year and with Tour de Bloc’s Luigi Mon­tilla, Up the Bloc in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont. opened. We touched base with de la Plante at his home in Mon­treal.

What was the first climb­ing gym you climbed in? I f irst tried climb­ing in 1998, I was 16 years old. My neigh­bour who was a few years younger than me con­vinced me to try rock climb­ing at Allez Up one after­noon dur­ing sum­mer break. His mom drove us down to the gym and we were be­layed by a friend for an hour. I fell in love with it in­stantly. The climb­ing was cool, more so was the at­mos­phere and the sense of cul­ture that was there. It was a day that changed my life.

Talk about the four gyms you’re in­volved in. Right now I am in­volved in four gyms. Here they are in or­der of size: Allez Up in Mon­treal. For me this is the f lag­ship gym that aims to be the best all-around climb­ing gym in the coun­try. Up the Bloc in Mis­sis­sauga is a ded­i­cated boul­der­ing gym in Part­ner­ship with Luigi Mon­tilla who owns and runs Tour de Bloc, Fric­tion and Boul­der­ing Canada. This gym is de­signed with com­pe­ti­tions in mind (wouldn’t ex­pect less from the owner of Tour de Bloc) and is shap­ing up to be a con­tender for best gym in the gta (in my hum­ble opin­ion). Boul­derHouse Vic­to­ria and the small­est is Seven Bays Boul­der­ing in Halifax.

A ques­tion peo­ple of­ten ask me is why the dif­fer­ent names for all the gyms? Why not fo­cus on one Brand? My re­sponse to that goes back to that first day I walked into Allez Up. What made me fall in love with Allez Up in the first place was this amaz­ing sense of own­er­ship that the clients and the staff had of the place. A climb­ing gym has the po­ten­tial to be a thriv­ing, solid com­mu­nity and I just don’t be­lieve that in the long run can be achieved with a na­tional chain. It’s just not the right feel. Both these new ven­tures have their own brand iden­tity and are run by a lo­cal part­ner/share­holder who re­ally sets the tone of the gym to what they want. This is not a model you learn in busi­ness school, but I think it suits the climb­ing world nicely.

An­other thing peo­ple of­ten in­quire about is, while ev­ery­one else is boast­ing big­ger and big­ger gyms, why am I build­ing smaller and smaller gyms? I’d rather keep them guess­ing for now.

Do you build your gyms with comp climb­ing in mind? Al­ways. Even though comps are two to three days a year, to me they are an es­sen­tial part of build­ing a good com­mu­nity. It’s im­por­tant to think about them when you de­sign a gym.

What has been one of the hard­est parts of open­ing a new gym? The re­al­ity is, when you are con­stantly do­ing projects, some­times you fail. You can work re­ally hard and suc­ceed at some­thing but it is of­ten at the ex­pense of some­thing else: A missed op­por­tu­nity, a friend­ship that goes cold, or a project that gets aban­doned. For me the hard­est thing has been learn­ing to bal­ance all these projects and still hav­ing a fam­ily life, climb­ing and re­mem­ber­ing why I think build­ing gyms is so fun.

Will you be open­ing more gyms? I hope to build more gyms yes. I would like to ex­pand each brand re­gion­ally. Right now there are a few projects I am start­ing to lay the ground­work for, but first I have to work with my part­ners to get Boul­derHouse and Up the Bloc up to cruis­ing speed.

What is your favourite part of own­ing climb­ing gyms? I love de­sign, I love solv­ing prob­lems and I love how much peo­ple en­joy the fi­nal prod­uct. I also like chal­leng­ing peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of the lim­its of climb­ing. When I hear pes­simistic gym own­ers tell me “climbers are cheap” I just shake my head. No man, just like any­thing else, peo­ple are will­ing to pay for qual­ity and at­mos­phere. I am so thank­ful to be part of an emerg­ing in­dus­try that I am pas­sion­ate about. It’s a very good feel­ing.

Do you think the growth of the gym climb­ing in­dus­try will con­tinue for the next two, five, 10 and 20 years? I won’t pre­tend to know the an­swer to that ques­tion. All I can say is, climb­ing has an im­mense po­ten­tial if we can avoid the clas­sic mis­takes some sports make. I had the priv­i­lege to have Tonde Katiyo on our team for two years and he had an ex­pres­sion that I think says it all, “Don’t dumb down climb­ing.”–

Jean Marc de la Plante and Robert So­m­o­gyi

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