Three decades ago, a skinny climber, a kid, walked into the Straight Up climbing hold warehouse in Boulder, CO, pestering the owner for a job as a shaper. He kept haunting the joint until the owner gave him a job and stuck him in a dusty corner of the warehouse. All these years later, that kid has built the legacy of the greatest hold shaper to ever take sandpaper to foam.
Ian Powell began climbing in Waco, TX, eventually moving to Boulder to be closer to the mecca. Once in the door with Straight Up, Ian would spend the next thirty years redefining what being a shaper means. He started e-Grips with Ty Foose, revolutionized the industry by shaping urethane holds, became the first to weave artistic renditions of stone texture onto the holds. His Kilter board features the first glowing holds on a training board. Texture kept him awake at night. He was obsessed.
Ian stepped away from shaping and setting in the early 2000s, eager to delve back into fine art. After a bit of hustling, his sculptures began bringing in tens of thousands of dollars, with one piece selling for over $300,000. He was in an entirely different reality. Along with the money, the first of his life, came a cocaine habit. Within ten years he’d find himself living on the streets of Denver, homeless and freezing, a monster habit drilling him into the ground like a screw. He’d end up in prison for credit card fraud, the least violent and most impersonal way to fund the drugs that were entirely dismantling his life.
He shot out of prison focused. He’d been sober since the moment his ass hit the bunk. Working behind the walls of the Spot Gym in Boulder, Ian began assembling what would soon become Kilter Grips. Today, after continued innovation and steady growth, Kilter is one the largest and most well-respected hold companies on the planet.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t gird Ian’s story with a couple features and interviews. First off, Caroline Treadway’s magnificent feature of Ian in Rock and Ice blew my mind. It is the most definitive piece on Ian out there. Next, ClimbTalk did an interview with Ian and Clark Shelk (you know, the inventor of the crash pad, Cordless, yadda yadda), which really delves into some of Ian’s thoughts about climbing, the industry, and addiction.
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Perpetually thankful to Ryne Doughty for the tunes.