Over a decade ago, the climbing wall housed on the gymnasium stage at F.H. Collins Secondary School was awash with young climbers training to compete in climbing competitions in southern Canada.
At the helm was their coach, Alain Dallaire.
Then tragedy struck in the form of an ice-climbing fall that required Dallaire to step back. His departure left a void. With no one to take it on long-term, the Yukon Youth Climbing Team disappeared.
Three years ago Dallaire was able to return to his old stomping grounds and re-start the program. And this year the team has built itself back up to the point where members are able to attend to competitions outside the territory.
Twenty athletes, ranging from Grade 8 to Grade 12, now train with the team. They come from schools across Whitehorse.
Dallaire also has three additional coaches who help make the program a success—Kathleen McDade, Greg Oldridge and Shane Dooley.
Last November, 15 team members boarded the ferry to Juneau, Alaska for the “Post Turkey Pull-down” indoor climbing competition at the Rock Dump Climbing Gym.
The event played host to over 50 participants who challenged themselves against 35 boulder problems of varying difficulty. Climbers were ranked according to their four best climbs over a four-hour period.
“Overall the Yukon contingent placed well and provided serious competition to local Juneau climbers training on a gymnasium that we would dream to have in Whitehorse,” says Dallaire.
“Two of our athletes, Drew Spicer and Seamus Beairsto, were among the top six overall scores and made it to the finals. In the female category, Ella Parker and Amaya Cherian-Hall came out with second and third place rankings, respectively.
“Henry Beairsto, Julian Moore and Casey Parker also placed in the beginner category,” Dallaire adds.
“The chance to compete is so important to keep the motivation of the athletes up. It gives so many social benefits, including providing the athletes with a sense of belonging somewhere. The team spirit went through the roof after the November competition.”
Luckily, the Yukon climbing community has rallied around the team to make sure the young athletes continue to have opportunities to compete.
This spring a local climbing competition, the “Cold Snap Crusher”, was organized to provide funds for the youth climbing team. Forty local climbers came out to compete and make the event a success.
The athletes are now looking forward to heading back to Juneau again soon. On April 21, 10 excited athletes will make their way back to the Rock Dump Climbing Gym.
For Grade 12 student Neisha Wright, it will be her last competition as a team member.
“I’m really excited,” she says. “I love the travel and the new challenge—getting to climb on something different is always good. Hopefully after I graduate I’ll keep climbing, but for now I’m just really looking forward to Juneau.”
Calden Hoefs, a Grade 11 student who has been with the team for three years, agrees.
“I’m so excited to get to compete,” he says, “We have a number of outdoor climbing areas around Whitehorse, but we really only have one indoor space, the F.H. gym. Getting to climb in a different space, and one that is so much larger and diverse, is an amazing opportunity.”
Hoefs has one more year with the team, something that Dallaire is grateful for.
“I’m hoping to recruit a new crop of athletes for next year’s squad as we are losing some of our top climbers to graduation,” he says.
Then he adds, with a laugh, “Of course, I say that every year, and every year the team fills up with a great group of athletes.
“We’re lucky to have such enthusiastic and dedicated athletes. It’s not every day you find athletes willing to train three days a week in a single sport.”