Jeff Pedersen: Climbing to success
As a youth growing up in Northern California, Jeff Pedersen loved the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains that were within just a couple of hours of his home. So when he first arrived in Provo to attend Brigham Young University in 1981, his first impression of Utah Valley was “how dry and drab it seemed.” That was, of course, before he and his college roommate ventured into nearby Rock Canyon, which is where his new passion, and future career course, were born.
Today, Pedersen is CEO of Momentum Indoor Climbing, the company he founded in 2006 when he opened a climbing gym adjacent to South Towne Mall in Sandy. It has become part of the rapid nationwide growth of indoor climbing gyms, which have enjoyed double-digit increases in new location openings for the past four years. The sport is even on the short list for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Summer Games.
“For me, it’s a sport I’ve enjoyed every year of my adult life,” Pedersen says. “It was still kind of a fringe activity in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s much easier to learn how to do it now than it was then.”
He earned a degree from BYU in engineering geology, and considered grad school but realized that climbing had “taken over my life. I’ve always had a great interest in the outdoors, particularly the mountains and canyons. So I changed my professional course completely and followed my passion.”
Pedersen likens that professional trek to his first trip up the canyon—finding his way and learning the most secure places to step and routes to take. He also felt that his vision of building better climbers and serving communities could only be achieved by creating state-of-the-art climbing gyms.
“I opened Mountainworks in 1993 in Provo, which was the city’s first climbing and outdoor gear shop,” he recalls. “In 2000, I opened an indoor rock climbing gym called The Quarry in Provo.” As the sport continued to grow and Pedersen gained more insight into the business end of it, he partnered with Kevin Bradburn and Greg Paul in 2006 to open Momentum in Sandy, a 20,000-square-foot gym on the site of an abandoned movie theatre.
“We were seeing the way climbing gyms were evolving—becoming more modern and professionally managed—and that Salt Lake City didn’t have anything of that level,” he says. “We were the first climbing gym to open on mall property in the United States.”
The recession of 2008 took its toll on all American companies, but Pedersen says it “may have been the best thing for us in the long run, because we learned how to run a business even in tough times.”
He calls Salt Lake City “America’s Climbing City,” pointing to the huge number of climbers in the area as well as two core businesses to the industry—Black Diamond and Petzl America.
“What makes this market so attractive to the sport is its reasonable living costs, its great hub connectability for travel and the good universities in the area,” he says. “The climbers here are like those of us who founded Momentum—passionate about it.”
Momentum opened two more gyms in Millcreek and Lehi in 2014. Pedersen is currently looking at two locations in the Houston market which, despite the flatness of Texas, has a huge population of rock climbing enthusiasts.
“We’re always looking for something new, some way to show people of all abilities that they can do this,” he says. “Whatever level of fitness someone has, we can give them an experience that will be perfect for them.”