An ‘Extreme’ Sport Finds its Niche

Dry tooling takes ice climbing to a new level at Orem gym be forgoing the ice

Extreme sports often have a way of morphing into other extreme sports, and such might be the case with dry tooling, a niche sport that is growing in popularity.

Originally practiced as a way for ice climbers to train in the off season, athletes use ice axes and crampons or climbing shoes to scale rock faces. 

While at first glance it might just appear to be rock climbing with ice tools, the skills and muscles used for dry tooling are more aligned with ice climbing than rock climbing.

As the sport gains a following, two friends and entrepreneurs turned their love of the sport into a business when they opened The Scratch Pad in Orem in October.

Dustin Lyons and Susan Sims started The Scratch Pad because of their passion for ice climbing and mixed climbing (climbing both ice and rock faces in the same ascent). They pooled their talents and resources out of a desire to have a better place to train and now share it with other enthusiasts, young and old.

Like 10-year-old Connor Bailey of Holiday, who delights in climbing the walls at the gym while his mother, Tessie looks on with perhaps equal part pride and bemusement. 

Connor just started in the sport last September but is already considered one of the rising stars.

Already a rock climber, he wanted to try dry tooling because his mother is an ice climber, so he joined The Scratch Pad and has been excelling ever since.

Finding the equipment for dry tooling for her son was a challenge Tessie overcame with ingenuity. 

While Connor had ice axes, finding crampons proved impossible because manufacturers didn’t make a size small enough for his feet. 

“I looked at bike shoes and climbing shoes and finally modified hockey boots,” Tessie said.

While Connor is the youngest member of The Scratch Pad, building a youth team of athletes to train for the UIAA US National Youth Ice Team is a priority for both Lyons and Sims.

Lyons sees the day when dry tooling becomes an Olympic sport and Connor envisions himself competing, and winning, at that level. Having the gym to train in helps him refine his abilities.

“We are the only gym dedicated to dry tooling in the state,” Lyons said.

The Scratch Pad is located at 165 North, 1330 West, #A4, in Orem and is open 6-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The Orem location for The Scratch Pad is by design because of its proximity to Provo Canyon, which is popular with ice climbers and rock climbers, and while the gym has been open less than a year, the curious have come calling.

Dustin Lyons and Connor Bailey. Photos by Pete Hansen.

For dedicated rock climbers, the curious are also if not skeptical, at least suspicious of the sport.

“Many are suspicious,” Sims said. “Climbing is inherently dangerous already, so when you introduce sharps it increases the risk. When you look at the sport objectively it looks dangerous. But when they give it a try it is not as scary as they thought it would be.”

At the gym athletes use their ice tools to ascend but do not use crampons, trading them for traditional climbing shoes instead. 

In competition, the walls are made with plywood and athletes “kick in” with their crampons as they climb, which Lyons said simulates the feel of kicking into the ice.

Connor Bailey working the unique aspects of indoor dry tooling. Photo by Pete Hansen.

Using plywood at the gym would prove to be high maintenance and expensive, so climbers at The Scratch Pad use climbing shoes.

Lyons and Sims mix up the challenges at the gym periodically and have contests for climbers to complete in the interest of friendly competition.

“It’s a very niche segment of a niche sport,” Lyons said.

And for those with a competitive spirit, dry tooling offers opportunities because the field is not as crowded as competitive rock climbing.

“There’s just not as many competitors, so it’s a really good opportunity for someone with a competitive mindset,” Sims said.

Someone like Connor Bailey, for instance. Hanging upside down with his ice tools, his mother gives a smile.

“He doesn’t do traditional sports,” Tessie said.

Dustin Lyons gives Connor Bailey a high five after the climb.

Neither does The Scratch Pad. (Davis is editor of Serve Daily.)

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