Tell us about the history of Rock & Snow since its opening in 1970.
Rock & Snow was opened in April 1970 by Dick Williams with help from a small circle of friends. Rock climbing and Nordic skiing was the inspiration for the name and has been the focus for us ever since. The shop grew modestly through the ’70s and ’80s, but a fire in 1990 nearly ended its run. Dick took on manager Rich Gottlieb as a partner, and a temporary location housed R&S while a new building was constructed on the site of the old. The new shop opened in 1993, and business improved to the point that an addition was added in 1996. Dick retired in 2000, and Rich led the shop through the wild west days of internet shopping and into a new endeavor in 2013: outdoor consignment. The Rock & Snow Annex opened in a 400-square-foot rental space and was an immediate hit. A new, larger annex was constructed on a portion of R&S’s parking lot in 2015. I started at the store in 1999 while I was attending SUNY New Paltz. I partnered with Rich from 2007 until his retirement in 2019.
You sell a wide range of products for camping, climbing, skiing and hiking. How do you stay up to date on the latest in outdoor sporting equipment?
I’ve discovered several brands through social media and just tooling around the internet in general. I also attend trade shows, and I try to visit as many outdoor stores as possible when I’m traveling personally. Since I always go on vacation somewhere with climbing, there’s always a climbing shop or two to visit.
How has the sport of rock climbing changed or grown since you took ownership of Rock & Snow?
With most of the growth coming from the proliferation of climbing gyms, rock climbing has become more accessible to more people than it’s ever been. You don’t need to live near mountains or cliffs to go climbing now. While some people are interested in taking climbing outdoors, most find indoor climbing to be engaging enough. Climbing is a very social sport, and gyms have really leveraged this to great effect. A lot of climbing gyms have coffee shops or bars attached, so you can transition from working out to sitting back seamlessly. That’s not to say that outdoor climbing isn’t also growing, because it is. The allure of the mountains still calls to the adventurous.
What are the seasonal challenges of rock climbing? Do you prefer a particular season to climb?
Climbing is a year-round activity. Spring and fall are best, but people will go out in some pretty hot and cold conditions. I personally like it a bit on the cold side (just around freezing) when my skin is toughest and the humidity is low enough for the rock to feel super grippy. I consider summer to be the off-season, but I still go out a bunch.
Climbing is scientifically proven to help with both mental and physical health. Tell us about that.
Climbing has often been called “moving meditation,” and there’s no doubt that climbing is a full body workout. The focus and strength required to stay calm on the rock when the terrain is challenging is quite substantial. Climbing is reasonably safe if you know what you’re doing, but there’s always a chance of injury or death. I find that stepping outside of one’s comfort zone can lead to growth if the level of discomfort is appropriate.
How do you help a beginner? Do you offer training or coaching? What advice do you have for beginners?
We don’t do instruction or coaching, but we educate climbers of all ability levels on the equipment we sell here. The best advice I can give a beginner is to keep it fun and stay safe. Find professional instruction and only climb with people who take the danger seriously. Climbing is play, but it’s dangerous play. A lot of people strive to improve, and that certainly opens up more opportunities for climbing, but there’s an upper-end limit to improvement that everyone eventually reaches. If you climb because it gives you pleasure, it’s a bottomless well of enjoyment.
What are some of your favorite climbing gear brands and/or products?
Most climbing equipment brands started because people wanted gear for themselves that didn’t exist. I love that! I don’t have too much loyalty to any particular brands, but if it’s in Rock & Snow, it represents good value and great quality.
Where is your all-time favorite place to climb? Do you have a bucket list of places you’d like to climb?
The Gunks [Shawangunk Mountains)]! Traveling to new climbing areas is a great love of mine, but the Gunks will always be the area nearest to my heart. I really like visiting the UK, and there are many climbing areas there I’ve yet to visit. Some other bucket list areas would be Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The Gunks is one of the country’s most popular climbing areas, and it’s right in your backyard. What makes the Gunks so special?
The Gunks was one of the first climbing areas developed in America, largely due to its proximity to New York City. Other than being established earlier than other areas, the Gunks has some of the most charming multi-pitch (more than one rope length) moderate (not too challenging) climbing in the country. I also think it’s cool that you could leave NYC in the morning, be 200 feet up a sheer cliff by lunchtime, and maybe back in the city for dinner. That’s pretty unique.
You donate a portion of your sales to the preservation of the Shawangunk Mountains. What inspires you to do that?
Rock & Snow just wouldn’t exist if public access to the Shawangunks wasn’t protected by Mohonk Preserve, Minnewaska State Park, Sam’s Point Preserve and the Mohonk Mountain House. It’s as simple as that.