Uniting Canada's Largest Climbing Community

Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughan

Aspire Climbing is opening a new location in Vaughan this spring. We caught up with one of the gym owners, Michelle Vanderheide, and discussed opening dates, the gym's size and the challenges of building a climbing gym during COVID.
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

Congratulations on the opening of the new gym. Can you tell us a little bit about the gym's location and the anticipated opening date?
Michelle: We know Vaughan is an underserved community for rock climbing, so with a lot of luck, determination, and an outstanding realtor, we found this beautiful facility to be the home for Aspire Climbing Vaughan. Our rock climbing and ninja warrior gym is located at 231 Trade Valley Drive Units D-F. We are hoping to be open in May 2021. Assuming all goes well during the pandemic!
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

So what motivated you to open a climbing gym?
Michelle: Starting our own business is something the three of us were always interested in pursuing; however, our initial, less ambitious plan was a cafe. In September 2019, Justin and Topher made an impromptu trip to the Franchise Expo in Toronto, and that is where they met Aspire Climbing. We're all avid climbers, but we'd never imagined the possibility of opening our own gym. It was an easy decision once the three of us talked about it that night.
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

Now that we have that out of the way, can you tell us a bit about the gym's size and the various walls?
Michelle: Our facility is over 20,000 sq/ft and houses 7,000+ sq/ft of climbing surface, including bouldering, auto-belays and a ninja warrior course. The boulder problems are up to 16 ft in height and set on a wide range of wall angles. Our largest boulder offers 27 feet of climbing from start to finish. The climbing is on two massive boulder islands and a large straight wall. We have five 23 ft tall auto-belay stations and two warp walls (10 ft and 13 ft tall).
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

Can you tell us who's involved with the gym?
Michelle: Justin, Topher and I are the owners of Aspire Climbing Vaughan, and we each come from very different backgrounds. Topher is a data analyst and has experience with corporate finance and sales. He's into rollerblading, video games and, of course, climbing. And he's a cat-dad to Milo. Justin is a General Manager at a mobile game studio. In the past, he's worked as a lifeguard and also taught swimming lessons. He's excited to return to his roots and teach climbing. When he's not climbing, he enjoys camping, hiking, and video games. He is a cat-dad to Charlie and Raggy. I was an environmental scientist for five years before leaving that job to work at Aspire Climbing Vaughan. I enjoy reading, baking, camping and climbing. I'm a cat-mom to Charlie and Raggy. The three of us have been climbing since 2015. We met when we were climbing at The Hub and became great friends. All three of us will be very involved in the facility's day-to-day operations, working alongside staff and leading by example.
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

What do you think will help distinguish Aspire Vaughan from other climbing gyms?
Michelle: Like the other Aspire locations, one big differentiator from other climbing gyms is our Ninja Warrior course. It's a great cross-training activity for climbers, while obstacle course enthusiasts can try their hand at climbing. Our facility will also have a large emphasis on lessons for ages four to adult. We want to provide young climbers opportunities to develop their skills and eventually transition to our recreational and competitive teams. As our facility expands, we'll offer a training area with a campus board, tension board, free weights and training equipment. Once government regulations loosen, we'll also be providing a cafe for climbers. Impact Climbing's extremely talented head designer, Rebecca Machan, designed our facility, and we're very excited about the final look.
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

Who do you see as the typical Aspire Vaughan customer?
Michelle: We're a multifaceted facility, and so we expect to see a wide spectrum of customers. That said, from the beginning, we knew we wanted to be a facility that welcomes people of all abilities and age groups, and in particular, we wanted to ensure we were as accessible as possible for new climbers. Our primary goal is to grow the climbing community in Vaughan and provide a space for them to grow as athletes and create new friendships.
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

What has been the response from the local community?
Michelle: We have received a lot of love and support from the climbing community and are thankful for everyone following our journey. Their encouragement is very appreciated as we navigate construction during COVID.
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

Who is building the gym, and why did you choose to partner with them?
Michelle: Naturally, since we're an Aspire Climbing location, Impact Climbing is building our facility. We visited a few facilities that they have constructed, and we were very impressed with the work they had done. We are excited to see them bring our gym to life. The design team at Impact has been an absolute joy to work with, and their designs are incredible.
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

What was the biggest challenge you faced during the construction of the gym?
Michelle: We have been fortunate that construction is going smoothly. However, things leading up to construction were quite challenging. The most difficult part of the journey was finding an appropriate building for the gym. We fell in love with areas that couldn't work because of outdated zoning bylaws, and we don't have the resources to lobby for zoning changes. Finding large industrial buildings with the required height (and a willing landlord) in the GTA is difficult. You're really looking for a needle in a haystack.
  •  Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

    Aspire Climbing Coming To Vaughn

And what about any pleasant surprises?
Michelle: Our landlord and his team did an absolutely incredible job on the leasehold improvements (washrooms, office space, staff room, etc.). Impact provided them with the CAD drawings, and in under two months, they transformed the building into a dream facility that just needs some climbing walls.

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Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.