Member Spotlight: North Country Climbing Center

Our Executive Director recently sat down with Rusty Talbot, Owner & Manager of North Country Climbing Center (NC3). Rusty answered some probing questions we had about his business and about rock climbing in general. Check out what Rusty had to say below:

Who and what is North Country Climbing Center?
The North Country Climbing Center (N3C) is the only full-service climbing business in the North Country. We have the only commercial indoor rock climbing gym in the region and also offer outdoor guiding year-round from our AMGA-certified instructors (the AMGA is the American Mountain Guide Association). Our state-of-the-art climbing gym has over 6,000 square feet of varied rock climbing terrain for all ages and abilities, including both roped routes (up to four stories tall with top roping, lead climbing, and auto belays) and boulder problems.
We offer a wide range of climbing programming for individuals, families, and groups. These range from lessons and one-time events (birthday parties, corporate team-building, bachelor/bachelorette adventures, etc.) to ongoing programs (after-school youth climbing teams for kindergarten through high school students, an adult training team, and more). We partner with the Wounded Warrior Project, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country, and the Boys and Girls Club of the North Country, as well as provide 4, 5, and 6-week-long winter programs for various local schools.
Guests can climb at the gym for a single day by purchasing a day pass or can get a membership for unlimited access. We have climbing gear rentals (climbing shoes, harnesses, belay devices, and chalk) for those who don’t have their own equipment. Our shop carries a great selection of climbing shoes, local climbing guidebooks, other climbing gear, and N3C branded apparel (t-shirts, hoodies, tank tops, and more). Our members receive discounts at our shop and at partners (including Lahout’s Summit Shop on Main Street).

How did the dream of a climbing center become a reality?
There’s much more to this than could possibly be answered briefly! The short answer is that we saw an opportunity both from a business standpoint (indoor rock climbing is one of the fastest growing activities with approximately 1,000 people trying out climbing for the first time each day in the US alone) as well as from a community standpoint (even though the region is home to world-class climbing and draws visitors from all over, the local climbing community was very small). Seeing this, we developed a business plan, secured funding, found a great location (complete with a tall ceiling!), put out an RFP to all the major climbing wall builders, chose a fantastic partner to construct the walls, and made it happen!

What if I’ve never rock climbed before? Can I learn from you?
Absolutely! Our Open Climb Package provides everything that you need for an awesome climbing experience and is ideal for first-time climbers. The package includes a day pass to N3C, all the rental gear you need (climbing shoes, harness, and chalk bag), and the assistance of our knowledgeable staff to give you an orientation to the gym and to provide belays (belaying is controlling the rope so that if the climber falls or needs a rest, they don’t drop far). If you know you love climbing and want to learn how to become self-sufficient, we offer Intro-to-Climbing lessons to teach the basics of how to tie in, how to belay, and all the necessary commands, as well as movement coaching.

Where is the best climbing in the White Mountains? (in your opinion of course)
Littleton is truly in an ideal location when it comes to climbing. Franconia Notch, which is home to Cannon Cliff (at over 900 feet tall and over a mile wide, the largest wall in the Northeast!) as well as a whole series of smaller crags, is barely 15 minutes from Main Street. Just slightly farther away are the many crags of Kinsman Notch, the Zealand Valley, Crawford Notch, and the climbing in the North Conway area. Rumney Rocks, less than an hour away, is a global sport climbing destination that offers nearly 1,000 climbs. Much of the best ice climbing east of the Canadian Rockies is all within a short drive as well, with amazing routes in many of the same places listed above as well as up at Lake Willoughby in Vermont. With so much world-class climbing in such close proximity, there’s really no need to choose one favorite location, but if I had to choose, I would say Cannon Cliff, because it has the longest, most serious, alpine routes in the East.

How can a local business benefit from the North Country Climbing Center?
Climbing is an important and growing part of the recreation economy in New Hampshire. Many people are visiting the region – and others are moving to the region – specifically to take advantage of the amazing recreational opportunities the area has to offer. Climbing is one of those great activities that draws people by the thousands to our beautiful mountains. In a broad sense, the more that climbing grows, the more that the rest of the economy benefits as these same people need places to stay (both short-term and long-term), eat (both groceries and dining out), buy supplies, and more.
There are four primary ways that N3C has had symbiotic relationships with other local organizations:
1. We find partnerships with lodging establishments to be mutually beneficial because we provide visitors to the region with an activity that is great for the whole family, that has a direct connection to the mountains of the region, and that is not weather-dependent. If visitors have a great time, they are more likely to turn into return visitors, and we can help your visitors have a great time. This is true with our outdoor guiding as well as our indoor climbing. Weather in the White Mountains is famously fickle and there are not many other active indoor options when it’s miserable to be outside. Indoor climbing is a great option when it is bitterly cold, or rainy, or just when the skiing or hiking isn’t in great shape, or if the kids (or adults!) need something active after it gets dark outside (we are open 7 days-a-week and are open late!). We are looking to expand the number of lodging businesses that we work with going forward.
2. We provide corporate team-building adventures for staff. Great employers know how important it is for staff to trust each other and have fun together. N3C can craft a team-building adventure for your employees to build camaraderie and enhance morale, while getting staff together in a new environment.
3. N3C has referral arrangements with several local retail businesses whereby our referrals (or members) get a discount with the partner business and vice-versa.
4. Lastly, N3C has sponsored climbing and outdoor films and programs that draw a broader audience for the host as well as expanding our marketing reach. A great example of this has been the successful REEL Outdoors Series we have sponsored and promoted for The Colonial Theatre in Bethlehem this summer.
While these are the ways that we have worked with businesses to date, we are open to other great ideas. Please reach out to us with any request or question.

What are some ideas for the future of N3C?
We are constantly changing and expanding our programming, both indoors at the climbing gym itself as well as outdoors with our guiding. This winter we are planning on increasing our outdoor ice climbing as well as expanding our adult training league and offering more non-climbing programming for our members and guests (movie nights, etc). Sign up for our email newsletter on our website northcountryclimbing.com or just follow us on Facebook and Instagram for all of our latest events and programs.

What is your favorite type of rock to climb? (no pressure being in the granite state)
This is a no-brainer: granite. While I love traveling to climb amazing granite in Yosemite or the High Sierras in California, or Squamish or the Bugaboos in Western Canada, I always find myself coming back to the amazing granite right here in the Granite State!
That said, it should also be noted that New Hampshire has just as much schist as granite, and some of the great climbing in the state is on schist, so it wouldn’t be wrong to consider New Hampshire to be the Schist State just as much as the Granite State… but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, does it?

Anything else you would like to add?
I have noticed two very strong – and seemingly contradictory – misconceptions about rock climbing.
Misconception #1: Rock climbing is inherently very extreme and only for thrill seekers and/or people who are naturally unafraid of heights.

“You’ll never see me climbing because I don’t like heights” is a common thing to hear from someone who has never tried climbing. For one thing, climbing is not inherently high off the ground. Bouldering, probably the fastest growing discipline in climbing as well as one of the most challenging and gymnastic types of climbing, is – as its name implies – focused on climbing boulders. Bouldering climbs (referred to as boulder “problems”) are rarely more than 15 feet high. The primary focus in all climbing, but most obvious in bouldering, is the athletic problem-solving movement toward a goal.

For those climbs that are tall, comfort at height is more commonly learned through practice than an innate part of one’s character. Avoiding climbing due to a fear of heights is, therefore, akin to never going on a jog because you cannot run a 4-minute mile: just as you can’t expect to run incredibly fast without proper training and preparation, you can’t expect to be comfortable trusting ropes when you’re high off the ground without some degree of practice.

Along these same lines, many people have seen photos or videos of Alex Honnold or others scaling huge rock faces without a rope and therefore assume that all climbing is extremely risky and offers no margin for error. The reality is that relatively few climbers free solo (climb high walls without a rope) and even Alex Honnold spends most of his time climbing with a rope to catch him in case he falls. Whether climbing at our indoor gym or outdoors in the White Mountains, we at N3C place significant focus on mitigating and minimizing risks. For example, the seamless, padded flooring in our bouldering area is over a foot thick and uses three different densities of foam to absorb and distribute the force of landings when bouldering. While climbing, like most worthwhile activities, has inherent risks, a recent study of indoor climbing found only 0.02 injuries per 1,000 climbing hours, making climbing less likely to lead to injury than most other sports, including badminton.

Misconception #2: Rock climbing is a kid’s activity to pass some time occasionally.

Possibly because of the popularity of small climbing towers at fairs and amusement parks, a surprising number of parents seem to view climbing as an “amusement” – an activity that really is only for kids and doesn’t involve specialized skills or training. This would be like believing that because children can enjoy mini golf, the US Open should be easy for them.

Climbing is a true life-long activity, which provides constant challenges for new and experienced practitioners alike. It is three dimensional problem-solving. Improvement takes time and effort. People dedicate their lives to it. Some people travel the world climbing professionally. There are easy climbs, but there are also very difficult climbs.

We are therefore rather surprised by the number of parents who ask us to put their child, who has never climbed before, on the hardest climb in the gym, which is usually a climb most of our staff cannot ascend. We certainly never want to dissuade someone from challenging oneself, pushing their limits to see how hard they can climb, but we also want people to have fun climbing. And it is not fun for anyone if can’t even get off the ground.

All of this said, climbing is a wonderful activity that comes naturally to many. It is one things that 3 generations of a family can all do together with each individual pushing herself or himself to the point that is both challenging and fun. (Skiing, for example, is wonderful to do with the whole family, but someone is always either being held back or pushed a little too hard!)