Six Wasatch Academy students of all skill levels and backgrounds attended The Mine Bouldering Gym located in Park City to compete in their winter bouldering competition series.
Climbing is an individual sport. The kids train as a team but when they show up at a competition, they are competing individually (think golf or swimming or tennis). Each climber is placed in a category based on the difficulty of the climbs and given 2 hours to climb their hardest routes or boulder problems. At the end of the 2 hours, the scores and placements are determined by how many falls the climbers took (points against you — the more falls, the lower the score) and your top 3 hardest climbs during the competition. The difficulty not only comes in the boulders themselves, but the regular climbing grading system is not applied to the routes.
While technically a competition, the event was designed to be fun and inclusive for everybody involved. The hardest part of the competition series is that the students do not know anything about the walls or the angles (vertical, overhanging, horizontal) until they show up for the competition. Therefore they train on every type of climb to be best prepared. Another challenge is the routes the climbers climb. Neither the students nor Coach Paul Roberts know exactly how hard the routes are (which is part of the difficulty of competing) whereas in regular climbing, there are grades established with each route being judge based on difficulty. The third biggest challenge is that if you fall, it counts against you. The more falls you take overall, the lower you place in the competition, and as the grades of the boulders increase, the more likely you are to fall because of difficulty. Those who fell were cushioned by protective padding at the base of each wall.
The six students were able to collaborate with each other on boulder problems (routes) to help each other navigate them and offer advice for when someone was struggling with a particular move. “The team did very well at helping each other even though they were competing against each other. This is what makes climbing competitions very different from most conventional sports. You work together more often than not with your “opponent” because both of you can benefit from the advice,” said Coach Roberts. The style of boulders in this competition suited the skill levels of the students. Vertical walls and technical movement is what the students are able to train for on the Wasatch Academy wall.
Different walls were arranged with obstacles that varied in difficulty. Some of the walls were very complex structures that sometimes required climbers to maneuver upside down in order to reach the top. Jimmy Sliskovich took 2nd place in the competition with Thomas Sebastian placing 3rd. Overall, each climber ranked within the top six of the competition.
“I find the most intriguing part of bouldering to be setting the problems to climb. Those that I can’t get on my first try, I find out what my weakness is on that problem and I try to get better at doing the moves that I couldn’t pull off on the first try,” says Sliskovich.
“Competition climbing offers the students a chance to not only do what they love to do (climb), but it offers them an opportunity to engage with the climbing community at large and test themselves outside of Wasatch Academy,” said Coach Roberts. “It offers them an exciting event to look forward to and train for. Ultimately all the training they do makes them stronger physically but also mentally because of how many problems need to be solved and how they use critical thinking to figure out how to hold the holds a certain way, climb well, and not panic.” Roberts added, “Ultimately it’s as simple as having a passion and pursuing that passion, whatever it may be that leads them to being motivated to do something in life, and that motivation will carry them far, whether it continues on the climbing wall or not.”
For Sliskovich, “I have learned a great deal of ideas and concepts that I am of capable of as well as a huge amount of knowledge for my health and well-being. To be happy and healthy is the most important skill to start with when getting into bouldering.”