For the past twenty years, Touchstone has been at the forefront of the climbing gym industry. Berkeley Ironworks, one of the original gyms, had major advancements in the building, in the technology and most significantly in how people are taught to climb. One of the original Touchstone employees, Scott Frye has been working in the “indoor mountain climbing” industry since October 1st of 1991. He spoke of the development of the gym and the advancements in how climbers are taught.
“The space looked so cavernously huge, it seemed unthinkable that we would be able to use it,” Frye thought when he toured Berkeley Ironworks prior to Touchstone’s purchase of the mill. The old wood casts moved aside for weights and a yoga studio. The gym filled with bouldering and climbing walls. The company expanded into the space and began developing advanced ways to teach people to climb.
“Previously it’s sort of a sport that you kind of wander into and you could flounder for months or years because no one considered you would take an actual lesson,” said Frye. “That’s probably one of the biggest difference that people realize, that there is a teachable skillset.” As Touchstone expanded, they employed climbers to strategize articulate teaching methods for young climbers and adults first through introducing them to the sport and then through more organized lessons.
“Nobody had thought we’ll bring in twelve six-year olds,” said Frye. “Back then it was like ‘What we’re a climbing gym, we’re serious.’” A friend of Frye’s with a young child wanted to have a birthday party at the gym and soon the idea spread. Young climbers began spending their afternoons at the gyms and soon their parents would join to belay them. Touchstone developed youth climbing programs that matriculated stronger and better climbers. As the programs filled, Touchstone began climbing teams, organized clinics and taught people how to climb.
“I expect any teenager who’s come through our program to have a skillset that’s far beyond what people from ten, fifteen years ago had,” Frye said. “If they’re interested in taking it outside, it’s already shown that you can easily transfer the knowledge you learned inside to climbing well outside.”