RockFish Climbing Gym in Whitefish is bringing this once intimidating sport within reach.
By Richard Turbiak. Photograph provided by Rockfish Climbing Gym.
In 2016, Belinda Kreitman saw a need and a dream. After working for 16 years at Next Level Fitness at the Mountain Mall in Whitefish, she bought the business with her partners Darren Stone and Shaun Olcutt and expanded it into a bouldering gym. Her brother Jason Olcutt constructed the facility. Together they created RockFish Climbing & Fitness – the only climbing gym in the valley.
Bouldering is rock climbing stripped down to its raw essentials. Leaving the ropes behind, you are free to concentrate on the climbing, not the equipment. It’s just you, the wall, and your friends on the ground rooting you on. At RockFish you’re able to train and hang in a safe, supportive environment. The 12,400 square-foot climbing gym has a 3,000 square-foot climbing surface along walls up to 14 feet high. Nine inches of padding line the floor to help manage the risks of falling. There’s also a slackline, if you want to switch things up.
The space is designed with a flow and spacing that appeals to a variety of abilities. Not only is there the prow, the roof, the overhang cave, and vertical slabs, but there’s a kids’ boulder with a fort and slide. A new route is introduced each week and available to train on over the next four to five weeks. It keeps members interested and always coming back.
Although most of the business is on the RockFish side of things, there’s also the 24-hour, full fitness gym offering personal trainers along with yoga and boxing. The crossover is appreciated – a good climbing gym offering the fitness piece that supports better rock climbing.
It’s been quite the journey since that opening two years ago, and general manager Alex “Whitey” White has been there from the beginning. “People are always looking to do active things. I wanted to create a space where a lot of like-minded people could go,” says Whitey. “With the amount of outdoor activities in the Flathead, it’s cool to have one more thing to do.”
Whitey is passionate about rock climbing. He fell in love with the sport when he was seven after attending a birthday party at a climbing gym. His first climb on real rock was at a summer camp when he was 11. He’s a self-taught climber – which he doesn’t recommend. His mom would drive him and his friends to a crag. She would read her book while the boys went scrambling. After a few years he figured it all out, finally feeling he knew what he was doing. Since those early days climbing has taken Whitey all over the world – Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, France, and Greece. He hopes to visit China soon.
RockFish offers a safe, accessible introduction to the sport, for people of all ages wanting a healthy activity to pursue. In a strong way, that begins with kids, as it had for Whitey and his friends. You can sign your kids up for Summer Camp through the Parks and Recreation departments of both the cities of Whitefish and of Kalispell. It’s a day of indoor rock climbing with climbing-specific games and activities for all abilities.
RockFish brings people together. They work closely with Rock Climb Montana to offer outdoor climbing and instructional courses – covering the basics to more advanced anchor building and lead climbing courses. Want to learn something out of the ordinary? They’re also able to create a custom course on what YOU want to learn. Again, this summer, they’ll host ladies-only outdoor climbing events through their collaboration with Outsiety, an organization formed with the sole intention of connecting women to one another through action sports.
And there are Bouldering 101 courses held through Flathead Valley Community College during the spring/summer and fall/winter semesters. Not only will this 12-week class make you a better climber, but course registration includes membership to RockFish and 24-hour access to their fitness facility.
When school is back in session in the fall, there’s the Youth Climbing Team – the Rockfish Scalers. The team, for ages six to 18, travels to climbing competitions in the Northwest. And the Afterschool Climbing Club offers two days a week of fully supervised instruction and a healthy, fun, and engaging activity for your child to enjoy.
For RockFish it’s about building enthusiasm, camaraderie, and trust – in your partner and in yourself. To Whitey, “You’re sharing an experience with someone else. It’s fun to have somebody push you too, past your limits. It’s an awesome feeling when you do it. Good to share that with somebody.”
Visit RockFish Climbing & Fitness at the Mountain Mall in Whitefish – 6475 Hwy 93 S, #13. Find more information by calling 406.863.9895, or visit their website rockfishclimbing.com.
About the Author: Richard Turbiak is the Executive Director of Citizens for a Better Flathead. Also a stained glass artist, he finds much inspiration in the beautiful Flathead Valley.