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[pagebreak] Recently I sat down with Kevin Pickren, general manager of CRG Watertown, to get his take on how the best new gyms have transformed the ambiance of indoor climbing.

“Traditional gyms,” he ventured, “tended to be exclusively about climbing, whereas we’re developing a well-rounded fitness center with a focus on climbing.

There will always be cliques of climbers who hang out together, but they dominated the older gyms, as they don’t ours.” Indeed, CRG offers a rich menu of yoga, spinning, and Pilates classes, all of them free with membership.

“It’s great that kids love our place,” added Pickren, “and yes, we regularly host birthday parties for them. We’re trying to push gyms toward a broader audience.

(Other gyms go cheapo with plywood.) With 142 separate “stations” from which to hang ropes, CRG never suffers, no matter how thronged, from the overcrowding that often forces indoor climbers to wait in line for their favorite routes.

Old-style gyms tended to cater to the hardcore, tossing in a token 5.6 or 5.7 route to appease the novices.

Before the afternoon was out, I’d signed up for a year’s membership.

CRG Watertown, I realized at once, embodied a whole new climbing game. For the past 20 years, off and on (more off than on), during the dreary Boston months from November through April, I’d hauled myself to the Mount Auburn Club to serve my time on the treadmill, elliptical, and weight machines.

There I was surrounded by graybeards and gray ladies, all locked in their hermetic bubbles, pounding out the miles as they read the on the overhead screen.

Yes, you could get a great workout there in a couple of hours, but that’s what it felt like—a workout.

And grabbing plastic holds while rap music blared from the sound system seemed a poor substitute for caressing the quartz conglomerate knobs of the Shawangunks, with birdsong wafting from the pines.

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