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Q&A with a Cool Coloradan: Dustin Dyer

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“Personal growth through adventure.” That’s the motto of Estes Park-based Kent Mountain Adventure Center, and words that director Dustin Dyer lives daily. A true climbing evangelist, Dyer is helping educate Colorado’s next generation of climbers through KMAC’s Youth Climbing Camps – and betting heavily on the future of the sport. We talked to Dyer about why he chooses to live and work in Colorado, why climbing is such a great youth sport and why Colorado might soon be to high school climbing what Texas is to high school football.

Tell us about Kent Mountain Adventure Center’s Youth Climbing Program. What’s a week like at one?
These camps are unique in that we try to make the magic of climbing accessible to youth climbers. They aren’t just designed to be fun; they’re powerful learning experiences that will set up a lifetime of good decisions.

For seven to 10 days, campers leave their lives behind and focus on nothing but climbing. Our beginner and intermediate camps are a “sampler platter” of rock climbing. We go bouldering, sport climbing, trad climbing, climb cracks, slabs and faces — whatever the group is most psyched on. We also have a bouldering-specific camp and mountaineering youth camp. Our advanced climbing camps are designed for youths aged 14–17 who climb at a high level. These are the first in the country to take competitive youth climbers and bring them outside with the same elite level of coaching they receive back home on their teams.

In all of our camps, the evenings will feature “classroom” time devoted to various hard and soft climbing skills, as well as history and culture. All of our camps are designed holistically: campers will get full nights of sleep, a nutritionist-designed menu and high-end physical training, plus hands-on concepts and theory.

From a safety standpoint, what are some of the most important skills you teach the kids?
We staff these camps with both elite-level indoor coaches and American Mountain Guides Association-certified guides. Not only will these guides be making risk-management decisions, they will be talking campers through their decision-making process. Many of our evening classroom sessions center around making sound and informed decisions. Topics like redundancy, objective hazard and risk versus consequence are visited daily. Rock climbing can be done safely, safer than most other traditional high school sports in fact, but it is only as safe as the climber’s decisions.

Beyond safety and technique, what other life skills or lessons do you think young people can gain from climbing?
Over the years, we have heard hundreds of students (and fellow climbers) tell us how climbing changed their lives and their relationship with confidence. The idea that it isn’t up to your peers or anyone else how cool you are or how well you will do, only yourself, is very powerful. Climbing distills this down to its purest form; 80 percent of what makes someone a good climber is in the mind, not the biceps. The moment one realizes this is usually quickly followed by the thought that everything in the world is also mostly about confidence, and if you can get up that climb that seemed impossible, you can do anything. It sounds cheesy, but it’s absolutely true.

Another concept that we work hard to drive home is that of goal setting. Goals are powerful motivators, and in particular, climbing goals can be very positive forces in life. To succeed at a very hard climb, one must train, eat well, rest well and have a positive mental attitude. These are things that are amazingly beneficial in all aspects of life, not just climbing, and are often unintentional consequences of trying to attain a climbing goal.

KMAC also offers adult rock programs. What can beginners expect from those courses?
We offer daily guided climbing trips from May to October. These are designed for beginners – whether complete first-timers to rock climbing or indoor climbers ready to venture outside. We often work with families, and can easily accommodate young children, elderly parents and everyone between. For the gym climber looking to head outdoors, we have some world-class areas that make an awesome introduction to outdoor climbing for any skill level in an absolutely stunning setting. We work hard to make sure these are not just “amusement park ride” experiences, but a powerful learning experience.

What is it that you love so much about climbing?
I was 18 the first time I climbed, and everything about my life changed. Like most serious climbers, I have spent a lot of time asking myself why I feel the need to climb. One of my biggest drivers is the adventure of it. Climbing has taken me to far-flung parts of the world I never even imagined existed. That alone is incredible, but the path to those places has been the most amazing part.

In order to make it to somewhere like Patagonia, you have to work hard, become strong mentally and physically, and plan ahead. To pull these things off you need to make good decisions every morning; you are forced to balance hard work, frugality, exercise, nutrition, sleep and a thousand other things. The net result is that you become a better, healthier more effective person. Not to mention, all of the climbers around you are in the same boat, with a culture of chasing dreams being the norm. It becomes a very positive unifying force in life.

What sets Estes Park apart for climbing?
Ask any of our guides why they work for KMAC, and you’ll find that living in Estes tops the list. Ask pro climbers where the best summertime climbing in the U.S. is, and Estes will top many of their lists, too. The sheer volume of top-notch climbing — well over 2,000 routes within a half-hour drive — is only rivaled in a handful of places on the entire planet. The climbs here are world class, and the relatively predictable weather and mild summer temperatures make this a climber’s paradise.

Climbing will be an Olympic sport starting in 2020. How do you think that will change the way the world sees climbing, and what role can Colorado play in that?
Colorado has long been at the forefront of elite climbing. Many of the 2020 athletes will likely come from our state. Even now we get walk-ins to our office who have no idea what rock climbing is; in their minds, it is an ultra-extreme sport that must certainly kill most who try it. I have a feeling that many who see climbing on the Olympics will realize that it is not only safe, but an awesome sport for youth. I can envision a few years out when every high school in the country has a climbing team, just like they have a basketball and football team. Colorado will almost certainly be to high school climbing what Texas is to high school football.

What has been your all-time, best-ever climbing experience?
Climbing Fitz Roy in Argentine Patagonia was my favorite. To an exponentially high degree, it had all of the things that I love about climbing. It’s giant (over 11,000 feet from the trailhead to the summit), it’s beyond beautiful, it’s literally at the end of the world, and I was there with my favorite people. I trained single-mindedly for two years before I went, and still it required every single skill that I had developed in 14 years of climbing: ice climbing, rock climbing, big-wall climbing, backpacking, traveling in a foreign country, expedition logistics, and a ton of luck. The moment in these big climbs where it becomes easier to go up than down is one of my favorite mental spaces to be in.

You’ve climbed all over the world. What keeps you in Colorado?
As I have grown older I have slowly realized that adventure is what I love more than everything else. I have always found climbing to be the easiest way to access that feeling of adventure, but I find it everywhere I look in Colorado. With a little effort you can backcountry ski almost any mountain, you can mountain bike hundreds of miles in a week, you can follow animal tracks on a frosty morning to a place right by home you didn’t know existed. Imagination, and constantly seeking new ways to interact with our home, can lead to a lifetime of adventure.

Learn more about rock climbing in Colorado >>