For all the high fashion collabs, celebrity endorsements, and podcast cosigns, climbing remains the North Star at Arc’teryx. But climbing in 2022 isn’t the same as it was when the brand launched its first product (a climbing harness) in 1989. It’s changing fast. To keep up, and to ensure the Dead Bird remains relevant in the sport that spawned it, Arc’teryx has announced the NextGen Climb Commitment, an initiative to invest $5 million CAD in community-based organizations, leaders, and training programs across North America over the next five years.
“We believe in the value of people learning to climb and the impact the sport has on people's lives—it's more than just the technical side of the sport, there's a life evolution that happens, too,” Arc’teryx Vice President of Brand Karl Aaker tells Field Mag. “But accessibility to the sport is a direct problem. It’s access to expertise and knowledge as much as it is equipment and locations to climb… that’s where we're investing and moving resources.”
As such, the ambitious, holistic commitment aims to support newcomers and elite level climbers alike by building on existing grassroots activations and other elevated organization alliances already in place.
To help lead the charge in identifying opportunities to make a real impact, be it through physical events or financial support with operating grants, Arc’teryx will lean on community organizers on the ground in key cities like Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.
"We believe in the value of people learning to climb and the impact the sport has on people's lives."
“We know that our expertise doesn’t match their expertise,” Aaker says. “So our work as an organization is to move resources into the hands of people that are leading the change, leading the work that removes the barriers and helps achieve that level of equitability."
For example, expect to see community-led free climb nights for underrepresented and marginalized groups at local gyms, free certifications, discounted courses, and hosted gym-to-crag events to increase outdoor education.
Grants for diversity, inclusion, and equity-focused organizations like Flash Foxy, Color The Trails, and Brown Girl Outdoor World will continue to help create more safe spaces for new climbers, while the ongoing partnership with Climbing Escalade Canada (CEC) will ensure future Olympic climbers representing Arc’teryx’s home country are not just clad in the brand, but have been fostered by it too.
Now, if you’re wondering why a brand so deeply rooted in the alpine, in outdoor climbing and adventure, is doubling down on gym climbing and competition, so were we. To this, Aaker assures that the core of the brand isn’t shifting. But the industry is, and Arc’teryx isn’t blind to it. “We have roots in the Coast Mountains of Canada. We’ve built a brand and the product we offer in that outdoor space. That's not something to shy away from,” says Aaker. “But I think it goes without saying that the world of climbing, the industry, the sport, is changing rapidly. And to evolve our sport and see it grow in a way that's sustainable and productive we need infrastructure that introduces climbing to people. Gym climbing is an incredible part of that—it’s a driver behind the moment that climbing is in right now.”
All this said, there’s no concrete road map set in place for the NextGen Climb Commitment, beyond what’s been laid out for you here—a fair amount of gut following will guide the commitment. But that’s by design.
"Part of this being successful will be our ability to be nimble and respond to what's needed,” Aaker shared with Field Mag on the subject. “We don't want the money, the people, and the time to go to waste. So we're going to really watch where the impact is, where it occurs, and make sure we're supporting the right things."
In other words, keep an eye out for future news in your neck of the woods. Something might just be cooking.