Vsion gym to close
By: Justin Brisbane
| Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2012 06:00 am
After 12 years of business in the Bow Valley, the Vsion climbing gym is set to close its doors at the end of the month.
However, a new group wants to run the facility as a co-op and is currently exploring models to keep the gym open.
Vsion owner Dung Nguyen is moving to Montreal to manage the Allez-up climbing gym, a facility that hired him 14 years ago.
Faced with competition from the new Town-run climbing wall at the Multiplex, Nguyen said he knew the time was right to move on.
“There are multiple factors at play. Clearly, financially, it’s not possible for two climbing gyms in town,” Nguyen said.
When the climbing community supported a climbing gym in the Multiplex, many believed Nguyen would run the new operation. However, the town decided to run the operation itself and Nguyen will now close The Vsion gym on May 31.
“It didn’t turn into what we hoped,” Nguyen said. “It’s a sad loss for the town.”
He praised the Multiplex, though, noting the community will be well-served by the facility.
“With the town of Canmore, the new gym will have a great design. It will be a challenge, but it will satisfy the majority of people,” Nguyen said. “Its governance is up in the air, though.”
While stating two competing gyms will not be financially viable, he also notes the best case scenario would allow both gyms to complement each other. When Vsion closes, local climbers could go six months without a bouldering facility, which would leave the indoor climbing community, and the Canmore Junior Climbing Team, which has produced 11 climbers that have gone on to youth world championships, without a home. The Sally Borden in Banff also offers indoor climbing, and many climbers also travel to Calgary.
A core group of climbers led by Brandon Pullan are trying to save the gym and run it as a co-op. Nguyen estimates the gym would need to sell 200 yearly memberships at $500 apiece to keep the gym running, while costs would have to be cut. Co-op climbing gyms are not new, and operate in Squamish, B.C. and Kingston, Ont. Pullan must make a case for the co-op model by the end of the month. If it doesn’t work, the gym equipment will be sold off to pay Vsion’s debts.
Nguyen said he doesn’t want to see the gym lost.
“The Vsion is great training terrain. It would be a great loss to take it down and burn it,” Nyugen said. “There are multiple formulas to keep the gym going in parallel with the Multiplex.”
The proposed co-op, called I Boulder, plans to rely on three pillars: a community of core climbers, a partnership with a mixed-climbing plan led by Malcolm Kent which could attract new business and the Junior Climbing team. With those factors in place, they hope to offer a complimentary service to the multiplex.
Nguyen is a national youth climbing team coach and will still have contact with the Canmore community. He hopes to wed the western and eastern climbing communities in order to secure funding from Sport Canada, and sees new opportunities with the Montreal job offer.
“I can see myself growing in Montreal, reaching personal goals. It’s a great opportunity,” Nguyen said, noting that Allez-Up has 24,000 members and is six times bigger than Vsion, which has 80 members.
Nguyen moved to Canmore in 1996 to become a mountain guide, however, his interest in indoor climbing drove him to other pursuits. He built a small six-foot wide, 12 feet tall climbing wall in his condo, which became a hub.
“We had some good parties, techno music. It was awesome,” Nyugen said. “There were so many memories (at Vsion). My favourite was when people first walked in and recognized the value of the gym, and to see their jaws drop.”
After a couple from Saskatchewan opened a climbing wall, Nyugen purchased it with Duffi Campbell and invested $100,000 into renovations.
“I was 28 and went into business a little blind, but I had a sense of what it could be,” Nyugen said. “We gave it a humongous facelift and it became the Vsion climbing gym. We were one of the first bouldering gyms in Canada.”
Initially, bouldering wasn’t popular with the Canmore crowd, however, Nguyen stuck to his idea.
“At the time, people believed in long routes and training wasn’t popular. We were building challenging angles.”
Three years later, the junior team was created. They soon started winning championships, giving credence to the gym.
“It proved to the public the value of the facility by creating champions,” Nguyen said. People began to notice how Vsion climbers were quick learners, and that they progressed quickly.
In 2002, the junior team detatched from the gym and formed its own identity, and the world championship appearances piled up.
“Every day of training with the kids is memorable.”
The gym faced challenges in the past. In 2006, they faced a large rent increase, but persevered. He still thinks a solution can be found to keep Vsion open.
“The best scenario for the town is to have both gyms. In a community with a strong mountain culture, it’s the way to go.”
Vsion will have an open house with free climbing on May 28-31 from 6-10 p.m. Those interested in more information about the co-op can visit the I Boulder Facebook page.
Nguyen is hopeful the community comes out to support the new venture.
“It’s do or die time.”