August 19, 2022

Here’s the scoop on ‘The Coop,’ North America’s first drytooling gym

It all started back in 2015, when Nederland-based Sally Gilman was looking for an indoor…

It all started back in 2015, when Nederland-based Sally Gilman was looking for an indoor facility where she could sharpen her ice skills for the upcoming season.

She didn’t need a whole lot — just somewhere she could use her tools and crampons in a way that resembled how she uses them on ice: hooking with her picks (“drytooling” as opposed to swinging into actual ice) and kicking with her feet. What she found — or rather, didn’t find — surprised her.

Corey Buhay on the finals route of the Euro Cup in Brno, Czech Republic in December 2021. She placed 8th overall. The walls are made of wood, designed for the competitors to kick into with the frontpoints of their comp boots, just like at The Ice Coop. (Pavel Nesvadba/Courtesy photo)

“It was just so weird that there was nothing out there for drytooling,” Gilman said. A few climbing and athletic gyms offered paltry space for tool work, but not much.

“And then I started thinking, let’s build something. Let’s do it.”

Learning as they went, Gilman and her husband, Colby Rickard, created The Ice Coop — North America’s first dedicated drytooling gym, adjacent to their climbing shop, Rock and Resole, in Boulder.

The Ice Coop, which opened in August 2019, more than satisfied what Gilman had been seeking four years earlier. Better yet, it’s had a ripple effect: What began as a humble, 2,000 square-foot gym where a few locals scratched around has, in just a few years, become both a gateway for newcomers to the sport and THE dojo for world-class American competitors.

Tyler Kempney, of Louisville, has been training and coaching at “the Coop” since it opened. He went from “flailing” (as Gilman put it) in his first competition, before he had somewhere to train, to winning two gold medals at the most recent Euro Cups — an esteemed international competition series — in late 2021, in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Sharing the podium in Slovakia with his teammate, silver medalist Kevin Lindlau, these two men became the first Americans to ever podium at a Euro Cup.

Tyler Kempney shows off the gymnastic side of drytooling as he moves between swinging boxes during the March 2021 Kick N Pick competition at the Coop. (Scott Crady/Courtesy photo)

Local comp queen, Corey Buhay, told me about her first Ice World Cup in Denver, six months before the Coop opened. Unfamiliar with competition choreography, she slipped off the first few moves and placed second to last. Back then her “training” had consisted of hanging from her tools off a beam with a couple of holes drilled into it.

This year, she said, things felt easy. “Now that we have the Ice Coop we can actually set World Cup style movement, and that is an astronomical change from what we had to train on before.” Since her first World Cup, Buhay, 28 years old, has grown exponentially stronger and technically proficient. As an athlete on the U.S. Ice Climbing Team, she trains at the Coop five days a week.

Last January, she won the prestigious Ouray Mixed Climbing Competition. “I would attribute that win to all of the strength training and the specific drills that Tyler (Kempney, her coach) had come up with. And I would attribute it to actually having a space where we could set routes and practice these really difficult movements that we would find in competition,” she said.

“I would also attribute that win to the camaraderie and the strong team that developed through the Ice Coop.”

Kempney became the sole owner of the Coop a few months ago when Gilman — her hands full with her rapidly expanding Rock and Resole business — gave him the keys. “Frankly, I just really want to see it succeed because I know how important it is,” said Gilman. “It’s crucially important to the sport.”

Buhay was the only American female to compete in the Slovak and Czech Euro Cups. But with more and more athletes training at the Coop, American presence on the world stage is growing fast. Buhay is now prepping for two competitions in Ouray this month, followed by two World Cups in Russia in March.

“The goal with the Ice Coop is to bring ice climbing to everybody,” she said. To this end, the Coop hosts fun, monthly events like beginners’ nights and ladies’ nights, both of which, she said, are always packed with climbers. “I think everyone from the elite competitors to the people who walk in for the first time come in with this attitude like, we’re going to make this fun.”

Contact Chris Weidner at [email protected] Follow him on Instagram @christopherweidner and Twitter @cweidner8.

Here’s the scoop on ‘The Coop,’ North America’s first drytooling gym