Holding Rocks – The Climbing Team at the University of Utah


If you know Utah, you know that rocks are important. They are quite literally, and figuratively, the foundation of this great state that we call home. While all nature lovers appreciate the stunning formations that rocks have formed to make up the famous landscape of Utah, no one quite knows rocks like climbers. 

The Climbing Team at the University of Utah was founded in 2014 and has grown in popularity ever since. The team is not only a popular community at the U, but is also highly ranked in the rock climbing world. Out of the 40-member team (20 men and 20 women) that participated in competitions last year, 16 of the members qualified for Nationals, and out of those 16, nine qualified for Worlds, which was held in Austria. Definitely a team that can hold their own – get it, hold? 

Stefan Fellner, last year’s president/coach and a member this year, expressed that while the team did extremely well last year in terms of competitions and overall strength/skill, they have some new goals for the upcoming season. “It’s a big goal of ours this year to become a full sports club so we can get that recognition and ideally have more opportunities for funding throughout the year.” Fellner said. Before talking with Fellner, I (and I’m sure many others) didn’t even realize that the climbing team wasn’t an official club at the U. 

Fellner also mentioned that he hopes to have more involvement this year in the fall semester and allow more people to join for training and outdoor trips before competition season starts in the spring. 

As far as training goes, everyone has a different personal training regimen, but the club has two-hour practices twice a week, and then most people practice more on their own time as well. Climbing is such a unique sport in the sense that you really do get out what you put into it, and it can be very individualized. “Climbing can be as safe as you want it to be or as dangerous as you want it to be.” Fellner said. 

The types of climbing that the competitions revolve around are lead, speed, and bouldering. Lead and speed climbing use safety ropes while bouldering uses crash pads below shorter walls to cushion the falls. During lead climbing competitions, each person gets only one attempt at each route for lead climbing, and the points coincide with the highest hold that is reached. The route for speed climbing is internationally standardized on a five-degree overhanging 15-meter wall, and the climber that reaches the top the quickest wins. The walls for bouldering are about five meters and the goal for this type of climbing is to complete the route in the least amount of attempts possible.

Fellner has been competing in climbing since age nine and is well-versed in all three disciplines. He went to Worlds in lead and was on the US National team last year. He likes how supportive the rock climbing community is and how no matter what level of climber you are, there is always room to grow and improve. More than anything though, he expressed how much fun he has when climbing, and that’s what it’s all about.

USA Climbing moved its headquarters to Salt Lake City in 2018 and built the country’s first National Team Training Center, which in part explains the growing climbing community here in the valley and at the U. “Salt Lake is growing as a climbing region because of the exceptional outdoor climbing and indoor training opportunities.” Fellner said.  

Driven by a supportive community, climbing has become such a staple in the Utah outdoor industry and it’s here to stay. So, whether it’s stunning natural slabs or manufactured indoor cliffs, rocks are very prominent here in Utah, just ask the climbing team at the U.

Photos provided by University of Utah Climbing Team