By Gabby Dodd
Special to Moonshine Ink
After six years in the making, the North Lake Tahoe climbing community will soon be able to enjoy a much-anticipated new gym in Truckee thanks to local climber Jason Burd.
Burd, who with his wife Gabi also owns High Altitude Fitness in Incline Village, expects the new location on Donner Pass Road to open close to the end of June. The $10 million contract is nearing its last steps as Burd’s building crew, Deacon Construction, is expected to be finished with their work in early March, with fitness equipment arriving in April.
“We’ve enjoyed the process of working with Jason and his love for climbing,” said Paul Cunha, vice president of Deacon Construction.
Of the 26,000-square-feet space a whopping 12,000 square feet will be dedicated specifically to climbing. A 54-foot climbing wall is being shipped overseas from Bulgaria and is expected to take nearly 50 days to install. The gym will also feature a bouldering area on the second floor, allowing to separate the ropes wall and Kilter board area.
“That’s pretty big,” Burd marveled.
“I think we are the biggest gym in any ski town in the country.”
For non-climbers, or those just looking to work on general fitness off the wall, other features include three group studios, a cardio room, a free weights area, as well as retail space.
The new High Altitude Fitness will even offer daycare for families, which will have a separate entrance and an outdoor play area.
“I moved to the mountains to have a low-key lifestyle and be outdoors, and the last six years I’ve been working really, really hard,” Burd said. “I’ve missed a lot of powder days, bluebird days, climbing trips. Building in a ski town is pretty tough.”
Burd was introduced to the climbing world 27 years ago on a trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, while he was a student at Colorado State University. Within a few years, the sport became a passion for him and he traveled to climbing locations throughout Colorado.
“What’s cool about climbing is the community is close-knit and I know people throughout the world that
are climbers,” Burd shared.
Once he graduated college, Burd had the idea to start a climbing gym that would bring the community together in a place where climbers could progress in their fitness on and off the wall. The only problem was Northern Colorado quickly becoming a booming place for these types of gyms and Burd felt this concept was “tapped out” in the area.
In 2004, he decided to trade his life in Colorado for a mountain experience at Lake Tahoe, where the climbing featured a stunning expanse of granite and picturesque backdrops. There was a strong climbing community, but a surprising lack of indoor climbing facilities.
A few years later, Burd purchased the Incline Athletic Club and by 2008, the old racquetball courts were torn out and remodeling for the new gym began. After High Altitude Fitness opened, it didn’t take long for the gym to become a success in the community.
“My goal was to build the best fitness climbing center in any ski town in the country,” Burd said. “What makes High Altitude Fitness different from most climbing gyms in the country is that I focus just as much on fitness as I do climbing.”
His wife Gabi, who currently runs day-to-day operations at the Incline location, takes pride in the gym’s versatility.
“Anybody who wants to come through this door has something to do that can cater to their athletic ability, goals, or sport,” she said.
When the couple first met six years ago, Gabi knew she had no other option but to learn to climb. Burd’s climbing lifestyle quickly became Gabi’s life too. Since gaining her love for climbing, Gabi enjoys introducing youth who have never tried it to the sport at High Altitude Fitness.
“It’s pretty amazing to see how many children are exercising in the gym regularly, whether that’s taking group fitness classes, exercising on their own, practicing for sports, or climbing,” she shared.
One of the things the Burds are excited about with the new location is being able to have a dedicated space for their youth climbing programs, as opposed to the Incline location where everyone has to share the space all at once.
In the summer, the couple also uses their youth programs to teach kids about the outdoor ethics of leave-no-trace to inspire future climbers to take care of the places they love while also learning to respect both the sport and each other.
The Burds’ love for the climbing world also drives them to donate money to the community to keep climbing crags clean, install new bolts, or support bouldering competitions.
“That’s one fun thing we get to do with having a climbing gym — offer reward systems, donations, or other kinds of programs that maybe we can’t do ourselves because we are an indoor climbing gym,” Gabi said. “That’s how we can give back to the outdoor climbing world.”
They also offer discounted rates for those attending school, which has been particularly useful for Incline Village’s Sierra Nevada University students who until recently did not have access to an on-campus gym, allowing for an affordable space to stay fit.
The Covid-19 pandemic caused many challenges not only for the building process of the Truckee
location but operations in Incline
Between shutdowns, trying to run a business at reduced capacity, and the constantly changing state and county guidelines, the Burds are extremely grateful for all of their employees, many of which have worked at High Altitude for more than 10 years.
“We’ve had an abundance of employees who got us through all of this, not only after Covid, helping us keep the doors open, but prior to Covid, just getting us to a point where we could stay open successfully for 15 years,” Gabi said.
According to the Climbing Business Journal, 44 climbing gyms in the U.S. opened their doors in 2020 (a pandemic year), which is more than in 2019.
As greater numbers of people move away from city lifestyles or are just becoming more active since the pandemic began, the CBJ expects over 60 gyms to open across the country in 2021, and many more beyond.