Episode 33: Thomas Betterton and Don Bushey — A Defining Moment in the Climbing Industry

Nobody is struggling more in the climbing industry than independent business owners, from gear shops to guiding services to climbing gyms. They’ve been forced to close their doors, furlough dedicated employees, navigate hazy government support programs, and figure out what the future looks like when the cloud of Coronavirus lifts and, hopefully, dissipates.

Thomas Betterton is the majority owner of the Denver Bouldering Club (DBC), two gyms and a third in the making. It is the core gym in Denver, a community of climbers dedicated to improvement over chit-chatting and picking up the next Friday night date.

Don Bushey founded Wilderness Exchange in 2000, a gear shop for core climbers, backcountry skiers, and backpackers. Through atrophy and the rise of the internet, Wilderness Exchange is the last independent gear shop standing in Denver, one of the premier outdoor hubs in the country. Its Wildy and REI and, well, that’s all we got.

Thomas and Don share their experiences helming their respective ships through the choppy and unknown seas of the Covid-19 pandemic. They’ve lived a waking nightmare of cutting employees adrift, seeing their income drop to basically zero, studying subsidy programs, and building a foundation for an eventual re-opening to the public. Without any sensible federal plan or logical national leadership, they are forced to make it up as they go, all the while wondering how their businesses will survive in a post-pandemic world.

The positivity and alacrity with which they’re facing this scary and humbling reality drips through this conversation in shocking ways. It’s not what Fidi and I expected, but boy…it was wildly refreshing.

I’m really, really excited to share this episode because we need, more than anything else, some stories about people weaving through this tribulation with confidence, steadfast determination, and hope. It’s a tribute to the sport we all love so much, and the people who build businesses to support our passion.

Have a story about how you’re dealing with the “shelter in place” regulations and time away from stone? Drop us a message at thunderclingpodcast@gmail.com or shoot us a note on Instagram @thethundercling. We’d love to hear and maybe share your story.

Thanks to Ryne Doughty, who has been putting on some rad live social media shows, for the tunes.

Stay safe, be smart, and remember that your actions not only define you, but your neighbors’ well-being. The rocks will be there when this god-forsaken fever dream dissolves into a past we will, hopefully, extract meaningful lessons from.

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