You may have seen him starring as the lovable botanist Seymour caring for an insatiable plant in Telluride Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” Perhaps he taught your children to ski in the winters, or took them on an epic mountain biking journey from Telluride to Moab during a Telluride Academy summer camp program. If you lived in Telluride between 2011 and 2016, chances are good you crossed paths with Dino Ruggeri.
“Dino has undoubtedly influenced a handful of unsuspecting students towards pursuing epic rides, big climbs and lifetime of authentic adventures outside,” said Telluride Academy Executive Director Luke Brown.
Now, Ruggeri is creating new opportunities for adventure and community in the city of Detroit. On April 1, Ruggeri opened the doors of DYNO Detroit, a brand new 20,000-square-foot climbing gym in the heart of the city. Originally from Detroit’s eastern suburb of Grosse Pointe, Ruggeri moved to Telluride sight unseen in his early 20s to work as a ski instructor, and subsequently spent a “glorious five years” teaching kids outdoor skills while enjoying outdoor pursuits himself as much as possible. It was in Telluride, he said, that the idea for opening a climbing gym back in Detroit was born, thanks in part to seeds planted by a number of local friends and mentors.
In one mental snapshot, he recalled sitting in a Telluride Academy training as founder Wendy Brooks spoke to the attentive group of incoming summer camp instructors.
“She said to the group, ‘Maybe one day you’ll form a program of your own,’” Ruggeri recalled. “That really stuck with me.”
In another memory, he was hanging out with friend and local climber Dave Chew when Chew asked casually if there was a climbing gym in Detroit. There was not.
“You should build one!” Ruggeri recalled Chew replying. He filed it away.
In 2015, Ruggeri watched a short film during the Mountainfilm festival called “Above the Alley, Beneath the Sky,” chronicling the story of two boys from a Rio de Janeiro favela learning to rock climb in the mountains outside the city, and a climbing school that taught kids to climb.
The seed was sprouting.
By the summer of 2016, Ruggeri was sitting in a meeting room in the Wilkinson Public Library, talking on the phone with a climbing gym owner and consultant about the possibility of opening a gym in Detroit. By November, he’d returned home to begin the process in earnest.
Fast forward five years, and the dream of bringing greater access to the sport of climbing has become a reality. DYNO Detroit, named for a climbing move in which the climber makes a calculated leap of faith to the next hold―a “dynamic” movement―is now open to the public for members. As soon as COVID-19 metrics in the region allow, the gym will also open to those who purchase single-day passes and walk-ins. The purpose-built facility was finished in February of this year, and boasts workout equipment, cardio machines, a yoga studio and 17,000 square feet of colorful, faceted climbing walls clad with hundreds of climbing routes and boulder problems for all ability levels.
On opening day, it was a whirlwind of motion, sound and color as the years of planning, effort and sheer persistence paid off. Music played through the sound system. Belay checks and facility tours were conducted. Under the bright lights, DYNO members geared up and hopped onto the colorful walls, plying the newly set routes.
“It was like a wedding,” Ruggeri said jokingly, recalling simultaneous excitement and stress of the long-anticipated day. “You kind of black out. It was perfect.”
Now that Detroit has a climbing gym, he’s hoping it will become a haven for anybody and everybody to come climb, whether seasoned rock buffs or newcomers simply curious about the space or the sport. The sport of climbing, he said, lends itself to a wide swath of interest and skill levels and translates well to an urban environment, something that is not as true for other outdoor mountain sports like skiing or mountain biking, which pose significant barriers to entry like expensive gear and the ability to travel to mountainous places. Plus, it offers an opportunity to hone all sorts of skills that apply to both rock and life.
“It fulfills so many things for people. It's obviously a great physical workout, but it’s equally engaging mentally,” he noted. “From problem solving to overcoming failure ― trying again, trying again ― to success. There’s trust, creativity, and at the end of the day it's also just fun. Children especially have fun ― it’s in our DNA to climb things.”
It’s also an intrinsically community-oriented activity with a built-in social factor.
“Physically, mentally and emotionally, it’s a really great activity that’s rooted in community and doing it with other people, again and again,” Ruggeri said. “And you spend most of your time resting, which is cool ― you’re not just climbing really hard for two hours. You're hanging out, talking, eating snacks, spending time with friends. The speed at which climbing happens is really conducive to being social.”
At the end of a tough day or a long week at work, the combination of the physical, emotional and social elements of the climbing gym also offer a mental tonic to unwind and reset.
“It might be a long day, but then you come to the gym, chuck it all at the door, find your friends,” he said.
So far, it’s been gratifying to see families and members come into the gym, get on the walls, and experience something new in the city of Detroit.
“Our core vision here is to increase equitable access to climbing for everyone. I didn’t want it to be in a suburb,” he said of the intentional choice of location. “The suburbs have always gotten access to these sorts of spaces that in a way perpetuate that notion that the outdoors are reserved for white, privileged individuals. The climbing gym itself is a powerful way to use the indoors to get folks to the outdoors.”