The thrill of the climb

It’s hard to imagine that just one year ago, Colorado Academy’s Climbing Center was still under construction, a dark, slightly mysterious space in the front of the Athletic Center. Today, onlookers from outdoors see a brightly lit space that is packed with students coached by two climbers who followed an interesting and circuitous path to CA.

From Left: Coaches Dylan Garey and Michael Alessi

Dylan Garey, who is a USA Climbing certified route setter, has a degree in psychology. Michael Alessi’s degree is in music business, with a concentration in classical guitar. The two met at a The Gravity Vault, a climbing gym in, of all places, Long Island, New York, where they coached and set routes for more than two years.

At different times last summer, each moved to Colorado, in part, because it would bring more opportunities for outdoor climbing than they would ever find in Long Island. Garey heard about the coaching position at CA and brought Alessi in on the opportunity. Then they saw the Climbing Center for the first time.

“I was stunned, just blown away,” Garey says. “Dr. Davis and whoever else designed the Climbing Center did a really good job.”

“CA has the equivalent of a small commercial climbing gym,” adds Alessi. “I was like a kid in a candy shop, so I’ve been working extra hours route setting, because we have this amazing sandbox, and I want to take advantage of it.”

The CA competitive climbing team, with more than 20 students, has won or placed in every competition this year. “I’ve been really impressed by the raw skill and strength of the students,” Alessi says. “They take constructive criticism really well, and they are so willing to learn.”

“They are the most respectful students I have ever worked with,” adds Garey. “The most fun part of coaching them is seeing a student struggle with something one day and then get it the next. That’s the best reward for us.”

What students are saying

“I like that climbing is unique. You use all of your body, and you have to use your brain to plan where you are going to climb. You problem-solve on the ground and on the wall.” Sydney Leach, Grade 8

“Even when there are a lot of kids in here climbing, it feels very big and spacious, and everyone gets time to climb.” Ford Rollhaus, Grade 8

“The Climbing Center is such a great addition to CA. The slanted walls are very well done. It’s a place where you can learn to climb properly, and that really helps us stay ahead as a school.” Eleanor Wynne, Grade 8

“It really helps you release your energy after a hard day. It’s relaxing to go and climb, and you look forward to it all day.” Tyler Schulte, Grade 8

“I tried volleyball and basketball and liked the idea of climbing, so I could experiment and see what I could accomplish.” Jessica Zinn, Grade 8

“The coaches help with technique and strength training. I like that we have the freedom to climb where we want, so it feels like an individualized sport.” Jack West, Grade 8

“I’m a climber, so when it came to choosing a high school, the Climbing Center was a really big factor persuading me to choose CA. It really clinched it for me. There is so much creativity in climbing, because you have to decide how to do a route. And then there is such great satisfaction being at the top of the wall.” Lola Sehl, Grade 9

“With the new coaches, the routes are constantly changing, so we get to work on a lot of different techniques all the time. I’ve always loved the creative athletic challenge of climbing, but you have to think pretty hard also. And it’s great that the Climbing Center is in the front of the new Athletic Center, so everyone outside can see it. I feel lucky to be able to climb at CA.” Sofie Rossman, Grade 11

“The coaches know what they are doing and set challenging routes for better climbers. You have to be constantly willing to change the position of your hands or body and look at things from a new perspective to get up a route. Then you can take your training and go outdoors and climb, which really gives you a sense of adventure.” Will Ungar, Grade 12

“With the new Climbing Center, it’s awesome that we don’t have to leave campus to go to a gym to train. It’s satisfying when you have been working on a route and you finally get to the top. You did it all by yourself, and that is fulfilling. And it’s so much fun that people can see you from outside the building doing something you enjoy.” Hayden Wolfe, Grade 12