Editor’s note, May 8, 4:15 p.m.: The opening date of High Altitude’s Truckee location has been corrected below. Photo credit below has been updated.


When Brian Broom-Peltz meets new people visiting town who ask where to go, High Altitude Fitness in Truckee is on his short list of spots to hit up. Broom-Peltz climbs, lifts, and drops in on classes regularly at the facility. “It serves as a nice community hub in a mountain town where community is gold,” he said.

High Altitude Fitness opened its Truckee location on July 19, 2021, and the on-site climbing facilities just over a month later (Aug. 27). The excitement — particularly among climbers — was palpable.

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There was excitement for local youth as well. A woman who will be known as Teri in this article said her child had been climbing at Mesa Rim in Reno. When High Altitude Fitness in Truckee was advertised to have a climbing gym and youth programs — expanded versions of what was offered at the Incline Village HAF — Teri transferred.

“It was wonderful,” she recalled. “It was so chill and the kids embraced each other. My [child] felt like [they] found [their] home. [They were] so excited … It was amazing.”

‘Amazing’ didn’t equal perfect, but Teri viewed the minor issues as growing pains of a new facility. “We had some complaints. You know, they didn’t have T-shirts [for the youth competition team]. They didn’t have a lot of instruction. It was really a lot of kind of babysitting play time. There weren’t enough coaches for how many kids there were, but whatever. My [child] was really happy. And all the other kids were as well. They were hanging out outside of climbing team. It was just this unity that comes in the climbing community — that is the climbing community: It is friendship, it is family, it is comradery.”

Yet in this epicenter for the climbing community, some say much is amiss. In the roughly 2-and-a-half years since HAF’s Truckee opening, there’s been a rise, numerous people claim — particularly in the past 6 months — in employee turnover, people being banned, and poor communication centered around the climbing gym and programs. Many people point to HAF co-owners Jason and Gabi Burd as the reason behind such actions.

“If they treated people well, they would retain people,” said Kyle, a local climber. “They wouldn’t be constantly trying to rehire … and then the owners’ lives would be much less stressful. Like, I’m sure the owners are stressed out that they’re constantly trying to refill the positions. They have this crisis all the time that they have no one to manage their gym, no one to run their marketing, no one to do front desk, and then they’re probably stressed and angry about that.”

Dave Hatchett, a name synonymous with bouldering in the Tahoe region, said he understands some have had poor experiences at HAF, but added, “I think it’s also worth considering what Jason has done for the community and how much money he has invested in it, and time. He made this gym happen and I think people have a lot to be thankful for … I was just there yesterday and the fact that I can drive half an hour and go get a rad climbing session in for a competitive price [when] I would spend an extra $30 going to Reno on gas. It’s a really valuable resource for me.”

As of press deadline, High Altitude is looking to hire a gym and programs manager in Truckee for $66,550 salary and a general manager for both the Truckee and Incline locations for $90,000 to $100,000 salary.

PRIME PROPERTY: High Altitude Fitness’s Truckee location opened in August 2021. Just prior, HAF donated a half-acre of its 7 acres to the Town of Truckee for future affordable housing construction. The dedication was a step beyond the required fee in lieu of building affordable housing on the site. Courtesy photo

A premier mountain-town facility

Jason Burd has lived in the mountains for more than 30 years. “Twenty-five years ago, I got my first gym membership in Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” he wrote in an email to Moonshine. “I used the facility to swim and chill out in hot springs while I was living in my Jeep Cherokee.”

Just over 20 years ago, he wrote a business plan while at Colorado State University for building a rock-climbing facility in Truckee, where he’d already spent several summers working. But it wouldn’t be until more than a decade later, in 2014, that Burd publicly announced his intent to build. In 2016 he and his wife, Gabi, went into escrow on the Truckee property, and 2 years later, the project was approved.

“What makes HAF unique is we ignored all trends in the industry and built a facility for a ski town with a unique and an incredible mountain culture,” he wrote. “This gym was built specifically for folks who have made sacrifices, [are] living in their vehicles, or paying high rent, purchasing an expensive home, maybe taking a lower-paying job, all for a chance to live a unique lifestyle. We pride ourselves of having an offer for anyone who lives in this community.”

In 2006, Burd purchased the HAF Incline Village facility, then known as the Incline Athletic Club. Smaller than its larger but younger sister, today’s Incline climbing space includes 3,800 vertical feet, 32 feet of top/lead sport routes, and 15 feet of bouldering.

The Truckee location features 12,000 square feet of climbing, 49 feet of top/lead sport routes, 15 feet of bouldering, six auto belays, and more. As of early April, HAF has 4,014 members.

The business’s impact goes beyond its property. “High Altitude Fitness proudly works with local organizations to promote climbing as well as promote health and wellness and work with the community on many levels,” Burd said, adding HAF has worked with Truckee Donner Land Trust to raise money to save Black Wall on Donner Summit, as well as financially supporting the Boys and Girls Club, Wounded Warriors, American Alpine Club; replaced anchors and bolts at Big Chief; sponsored multiple competitions and the Alpenglow Sports Winter Speaker Series, and more.

I think it’s also worth considering what Jason has done for the community and how much money he has invested in it, and time. He made this gym happen and I think people have a lot to be thankful for.”

~ Dave Hatchett

HAF member Joe Fellner commented on the opportunities HAF launched for his son Stefan: “He ended up going to Salt Lake City, the University of Utah. He earned a climbing scholarship. He ended up becoming the coach of the Utah team. He was a national champion in climbing and we traveled the world. I owe it all to High Altitude opening up those doors to us.”

The pricing is comparable to nearby climbing gyms. A single membership for anyone 18 to 65 costs $890 per year, including such perks as unlimited group fitness, cycling, and yoga classes, 15% off pro shop retail, and more across two gym locations.

For a general annual membership, Mesa Rim in Reno costs $979; Granite Arch Climbing Center on the outskirts of Sacramento $781; and Mission Cliffs in San Francisco $1,188.

“I really appreciate the [HAF] facility. I appreciate seeing my friends there,” Kyle said. “And sometimes I am just waiting to see if I get banned. Like, when I walk in the facility, I often wonder if my card won’t work and if I’m just gonna be banned.”

Kyle is not the climber’s real name: “I have to do this [interview] anonymously ‘cause they’ll just ban me,” he said.

Banned from the only game in town

The potential of being banned from High Altitude Fitness was mentioned by many of those interviewed for this article, as well as some who declined to speak for that very reason.

“They have a pattern of banning people from the gym for doing things as much as, like, speaking out against them,” said another climber, also anonymous for fear of retaliation. “And a lot of us are quite concerned about getting added to that list.”

The local climbing community was centered heavily around Mesa Rim in Reno until Truckee High Altitude Fitness was built, where the joy of an indoor climbing opportunity was localized. Some area climbers have ended up working for HAF, meaning there are conversations in the community about the “pressure being put down” on employees, Kyle said.

Of HAF’s policy on refusing service, Burd explained it applies “to an individual who participated in theft, fraud, who broke state, county, and/or federal laws, were threatening and harmful, participated in discrimination, or participated in intent to harm. Three former employees’ privileges have been revoked; we decline to comment on the exact details of said former employees to protect their privacy.”

Kate McConnell is one of those individuals. McConnell moved to California last April and lived in the Bay Area before moving up to Truckee. “I’m an avid outdoor rock climber,” she said. “I’ve been working in the climbing industry now for about 5 years as a professional route setter.”

McConnell worked as a front desk shift manager from mid-August to mid-November 2023. She said she was asked during the interview process whether she was single and what type of car she drove. “I thought that was really weird,” McConnell said, though she understood the facility didn’t want to hire people who were likely to leave the area after a short amount of time.

She also said the employee handbook upon hire included a clause that stated if an employee did not work a full 90-day period, they were subject to not being able to patronize the gym for the next 90 days. McConnell’s understanding was that such a rule would deter the high turnover the gym was experiencing.

“Employees must commit to a minimum of 90 days working without incident; if employee terminates this contract prior to the 90-day period, he/she will be charged for all uniforms and potentially for complimentary services granted during temporary employment,” the handbook states. “Employee Membership will be terminated and it is possible that gym access will not be granted for a period of time if employee does not fulfill at least 90 days of employment.”

Warren, first name only, who worked at the front desk from August 2023 to January 2024 before being laid off, said, “How my manager worded the contract was, if you quit before the 90 days, you can’t come back to the gym for the remainder of your contract. She described it as a breakup period.”

To the handbook passage, Burd said, “This is not a contract or a waiver that requires a signature. The word contract was used loosely as an ethical code of conduct … no waiver or contract is signed or held against an employee.” He also emphasized that it’s only ‘possible’ to lose access for a period of time. “No employee that did or did not meet commitment has ever been charged for complimentary services while employed.”

Warren commented on the high turnover that was happening while he was employed, particularly around the front desk. “They wanted full-time commitment, but part-time hours,” he said, adding that he had three different managers during his 6-month tenure. “By the time I left, I was the second most seniored employee [at the front desk].”

Pat Herbert, a seasonal HAF employee who worked 6 months in 2022 and 5 in 2023, said of his time at the front desk, “When I showed up, like three others were leaving … Four months into my tenure, I had been there longer than like the rest of the front desk staff.” Some of the reasons he heard from those leaving were about a dislike of the employee atmosphere and pay complaints from his fellow coworkers.

Greg Redlawsk, current head route setter for HAF, said he wasn’t aware of a 90-day clause on his own contract and that he’s “making as much, if not more now [salary-wise] than I was setting for big companies in big cities.” Redlawsk has route set in New York, D.C., and Chicago.

Eighty days into her position with HAF, McConnell was hired to work at Sugar Bowl Academy. She put in her 2 weeks at HAF with the owners, never heard back, and was told on her last day that she wouldn’t be able to return for a membership until February 2024. During that span of 3 months, however, McConnell learned from current employees she was being banned permanently for letting patrons in for free. McConnell refuted the allegation, saying she had proof via receipt and video recording this didn’t happen. When she confronted Gabi Burd, McConnell said they briefly argued over the claim.

“Then here we come up to February where I was told I could have my membership back,” McConnell said. “The only reason I walked back in there and tried to get a membership is ‘cause there’s nowhere else to climb here. I’m deeply rooted in the climbing community. It’s the only place to train. And I was desperate to get back in the gym to hang out with my friends.”

McConnell was informed by a staff member that she would no longer be able to patronize HAF. “I’ve never had anything in writing saying that I was banned … It’s all been verbal,” McConnell said.

“We’re in this annoying place where we have a facility that we enjoy and value and love, and we’re grateful that they built it, but a whole bunch of our friends can never hang out with us,” Kyle said on the matter. “We’re supporting some really negative people. It’s sort of an ethical quandary.”

Kyle created a petition on change.org on March 26, titled ‘Stop banning former employees and members — High Altitude Fitness.’ The request is that the owners reconsider the 90-day employment passage of the handbook, and that they offer membership to anyone currently banned. The original petition, released in January, reached its 140-signee goal. The updated petition has 28 signatures as of press deadline.

Kyle’s real name is not connected with the petition; even still, it’s a major reason why he wonders if he’ll be banned.

“All of our expectations are very low for any impact we can have,” he said. “But the reason I created that petition is I think that it’s important for the owners to know that we all know. We all very clearly see what is wrong and how it should change.”

We’re in this annoying place where we have a facility that we enjoy and value and love, and we’re grateful that they built it, but a whole bunch of our friends can never hang out with us. We’re supporting some really negative people. It’s sort of an ethical quandary.”

~ Kyle, climber at High Altitude Fitness, Truckee

Burd is aware of the petition and said he’s disappointed the signatures are anonymous because “anyone can sign the petition regardless of living in this community or not … Our 4,014 active members speak volumes for the type of service we provide and the wellbeing of our employees. As a business, our organization’s priorities are our employees, then our members and guests. We treat our employees with dignity, honesty, and with respect. We thrive because of our team and support them daily.”

Up in prices, down in team members

Adult climbers at HAF aren’t the only ones with frustrations. They also aren’t the only ones who’ve been denied entry.

Last August, the youth climbing programs saw a significant price increase. The competitive climbing team, known as Team Flash and made up of youth ages 8 to 18, went from a monthly fee of $200 to $350 with an additional 90 minutes of practice per week. The Lightning Bolt intermediate class for ages 8 to 14, as another example, went from $150 per month with two classes a week to $190 per month with one class.

The parents who spoke with Moonshine Ink said they were given little notice about the price change.

Teri, mentioned earlier in this story, said she first found out about the rise in cost via a newsletter about climbing team enrollment opening up: “We all got pretty upset. All the parents were like, ‘Hey, whoa, hold on.’ We all emailed and we were asking questions like, ‘Where is this coming from? What are we getting for this? What’s changing?’ Some of the younger youth programs parents were told, you don’t like it, leave; there’s a wait list behind you.”

Whitby Bierwolf, whose two children were part of climbing classes, questioned the price change with multiple HAF employees, including Gabi Burd. Bierwolf, who runs the Mamas of Truckee/Tahoe Facebook page, said she heard from multiple local mothers who were frustrated by the increase. One parent, as an example, canceled her membership to afford the price of keeping her child climbing.

KIDS ON THE ASCENT: Whitby Bierwolf’s two children participated in High Altitude Fitness’s climbing classes. When the prices increased in August 2023, she said she questioned the owners and was eventually told her family isn’t welcome anymore. Courtesy photo

In an email to Burd, Bierwolf asked for a justification of the price increase and said she was told it was a business decision. When Bierwolf inquired further, Burd wrote in an email, “I am refunding your dues for your two Lightning Bolt memberships in full and revoking your privilege to be a member or guest at either of our locations of High Altitude Fitness.”

“All because I questioned the increase,” Bierwolf said. She added that despite the promise to cancel, she was charged for each of the 4 months that followed.

A couple of weeks after the price increase, an email went out to parents of Team Flash explaining that after hearing concerns, the membership was lowered from $350 to $325, and practice time would be extended by 30 minutes. Additionally, the email stated, “The price increase will go to team shirts, sending coaches to comps, getting ropes for team, setting up climbs specified for competition prep, and outside practices such as if we go to other gyms to climb.”

Teri said that response assuaged some concerns of hers, though other team members had already begun to leave. “We looked at all the other prices from the Bay Area to Mesa Rim,” she said, “and we’re like, okay, we’re gonna hang in there. If this is what you’re promising, then let’s see what happens.”

Despite promises made, coaches still weren’t coming along to competitions on HAF’s dime. Parents paid one coach under the table to attend a competition in the Bay Area. By early December, two High Altitude coaches had quit.

“Everybody just started dropping like flies off the team,” Teri said — including her child.

“We had been doing our best to follow up with all of those things,” Redlawsk said of the added perks. “I would say that probably the biggest issue that prevented a lot of that was just the staffing turnover. I am not privy to or know exactly why that turnover happened. All I can say is that that definitely had a massive impact on the team stuff.”

Grant Sacks said his daughter was one of the last few on Team Flash after the hike in prices and ensuing events. By that point, he decided they’d call it quits. “They keep going through coaches … We just weren’t getting what we wanted … She loves climbing, but the team’s not great.”

Sacks spoke with a HAF staff member in person to cancel the team membership and convert it to a standard gym membership. After going through a process with the front desk, Sacks said he was still charged when the new month started. When he reached out to the owners, he was told any cancellation needed to be done in writing and a refund would not be granted.

“[Your daughter] has enrolled holding a spot on the roster for the 6-month period from September [to] March 2024, since she and others have held the spot, we have not allowed any other members to join the team,” Gabi Burd wrote in an email to Sacks on Jan. 2. “I will unenroll her for the future and no future payment will be made.”

Sacks replied to Burd, “I see a great disconnect here. I acted in good faith by going in person to High Altitude to ask what steps I need to take to cancel Team Flash. The failure of staff to follow the protocol you outlined in your previous email was through no fault of my own. As for holding the spot, I think the response is borderline disingenuous knowing full well that more than four team members have left in the last 2 months. Please do let me know how four vacancies on the team still compelled you to hold [my daughter]’s spot? I kindly ask that you reconsider reversing the charge. Taking all the appropriate steps to ask in person about canceling should not be punished for a failure on the part of High Altitude staff.”

Sacks said Burd did not reply. In February, Sacks was still charged for the $320 Team Flash membership, as well as $80 for the monthly membership payment, but he changed his payment method to a virtual credit card with a limit to see if HAF would try again. In March, the facility attempted to charge him for the two payments yet again.

Since January, Sacks said both his daughter as well as his stepson, who has a separate account, tried to access HAF as regular members, found their access keys deactivated, and were told by staff they could not enter.

“I think it’s ironic that the very type of loyalty and customer base that you’re trying to build, which usually starts at a young age, are the people that you’re ostracizing the most,” Sacks said.

Redlawsk, normally with no oversight over youth climbing programs, stepped up to volunteer as one of the climbing coaches during the transitional period at the end of 2023. “The team got disjointed and some issues came up and that all is true. But I would say that things were also happening behind the scenes that created that situation that weren’t intentional. I don’t think anyone was trying to do a bad job or make it not successful.”

The current price for participation in Team Flash is $320 per month for three days a week with a minimum 10-month commitment. Burd said there are discussions underway about whether to return to 2 days per week for the beginner and intermediate climbing teams, which each have more than 20 children enrolled.

Of the late 2023 team impacts, Burd wrote, “The biggest downfall was the lack of parent participation from our team’s involvement in the competitions at High Altitude Fitness, as well as several climbers choosing other sports activities or vacations instead of participating in their home team’s competition.”

THE PLACE TO CLIMB: High Altitude Fitness boasts the only climbing gym in Truckee, and includes 12,000 square feet of climbing, 49 feet of top/lead sport routes, 15 feet of bouldering, and more. Courtesy photo

Higher altitude

T-shirts, coaches attending competitions, and more has been put in place now for the climbing teams. Some of the youth who’ve left HAF climb regularly at Mesa Rim, but the distance is a challenge.

Redlawsk says he’s not hearing about frustrations over the climbing teams and classes, nor complaints among his coworkers about operations on a daily basis like he used to.

Kyle, the creator of the petition, has a gameplan in case he ends up being banned, and that is to support an alternative climbing gym in Truckee. “I’ll probably join CAMP 1,” he said. “I might see if there’s a way to encourage them to continue their idea of putting up a wall. Like, could me and my friends just build it for them? Just put our labor in for free.”

CAMP 1 is a gym, fitness, and wellness center located in Truckee’s Pioneer Commerce Center. The spot opened its doors around the same time as HAF in Truckee, originally anticipating to also include a climbing wall. Questions of public demand for two climbing gyms were raised, and ultimately CAMP 1 chose to pivot direction without the climbing aspect.

CAMP 1 owners Katie and Ciro Mancuso told Moonshine they have no intention of adding on a climbing gym at this time.

As for Jason Burd, he intends to have HAF continue serving as “a place of wellness that embodies diversity and inclusion, a lifestyle, youth engagement, and partnerships for our members and employees to come together and accomplish our goals.

“We often hear a narrative that we are only in it for the money,” he added. “If that were truly the case, we would have never chosen to build in a ski town with a population of 18,000. We could have built two gyms almost anywhere in the country for the same price … We fought hard for the people in this mountain community to build the Truckee facility.”

Author

  • Alex Hoeft

    Alex Hoeft joined Moonshine staff in May 2019, happy to return to the world of journalism after a few years in community outreach. She has both her bachelor's and Master's in journalism, from Brigham Young University and University of Nevada, Reno, respectively. When she's not journalism-ing, she's wrangling her toddler or reading a book — or doing both at the same time.

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