The South Okanagan is Canada’s premium destination for rock climbing and Saturday’s event at Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park in Penticton proves it, says Rolf Rybak.
The executive director of the Skaha Climbers Association was instrumental in organizing the first-ever Climbing Festival that welcomed thousands from several different states and provinces May 28 to 29.
In celebration of the 12th-anniversary of the formation of the provincial park, Rybak said the late-May event has officially propelled rock climbing into a mainstream sport.
“A lot of people move to Penticton because of the climbing because this is considered a world-class climbing area,” Rybak said. “It’s become very mainstream and no longer a counter-culture activity.”
Saturday’s event opening featured 14 vendors and interactive activities for all ages, aside from the main attractions on the rocks.
“This is all about community,” Rybak explained. “What we’re doing is raising money through silent auctions, contests and through our generous vendors who have donated climbing products and cash to the festival.”
Funds raised during the weekend will go to the Skaha Bluffs Park Watch, an organization that was formed six years ago for the purpose of improving the experience for both locals and tourists alike at the provincial landmark.
Rock climbing isn’t just an ordinary sport, though — it’s a real money maker, too.
Rybak referenced a Penticton-led economic study in 2018 that revealed the climbing community brings in $12 million each year in both direct and indirect impact to the community, based on 60,000 visitors.
“Now we’re pushing close to 75,000 to 80,000 people who visit here because of climbing,” he said. “Hopefully this weekend raises even more awareness for the park and its importance to us.”
Saturday and Sunday will feature activities for climbers of all skill levels, with competitions and clinics scheduled throughout both days.
“We have a lot of vendors here that recognize how important Skaha is, and from the perspective of Penticton and tourism, it’s important to know that there’s more going in the city than just on the north end,” Rybak said.
“There’s a lot of going on in the south end, too.”