Legendary climber Todd Skinner was onto something when he followed his sister’s advice—she was a gold prospector—to check out the climbing near the small town of Lander in central Wyoming. The Pinedale, Wyoming resident grew up climbing on the opposite side of the Wind River Range with nary a clue of the virtually untapped sport climbing Mecca that lay just east of the Winds. Todd would go on to help develop two of Wyoming’s greatest sport climbing areas: Sinks Canyon, and the beautiful dolomite cliffs of Wild Iris climbing area, the namesake of Lander’s climbing and outdoor hub: Wild Iris Mountain Sports.
Established in 1990 by John Howells, the Wild Iris climbing shop was originally a tiny shack that sold hardware, much of it purchased by Todd and his wife Amy. They ended up taking over the store and Wild Iris Mountain Sports bloomed in an old historic building with vaulted tin ceilings and hardwood floor, offering a rustic authenticity with 3,000 feet of retail space.
Today the store is at a different location, down the street in a former cinderblock building that used to be a pharmacy. What they might’ve lost in interior panache, they made up in square footage. The 4,000-square-foot building has given them the needed room to grow even more, and the famous Lander Bar is now that much closer.
Business is thriving. With myriad products for climbing, backcountry, trail running, camping and fishing, Wild Iris Mountain Sports is a large, full-featured outpost for the high number of travelers (and locals) in need of gear, info, and/or directions to their next outdoor experience. “This store could be in Denver or Portland,” says assistant manager Emily Tilden.
Much of the store’s success stems from the quality of the staff that lives and plays in Lander’s surrounding hills and mountains. “We have talented, core-user people,” says Tilden. “They have a sense of humility and a strong investment in the community.
The store recently helped the town usher in its 20th annual International Climbers’ Festival, the oldest of its kind in the US. Climbers of all levels, grades, and ages descend upon Lander for four days to celebrate all things climbing. Wild Iris Mountain Sports was at the heart of the festival, organizing the famed community event and creating an atmosphere of inclusion and camaraderie. “The vibe was overwhelmingly positive,” says SCARPA athlete Shingo Ohkawa, who made his first visit to the Fest last month.
With an everyman approach to climbing, Wild Iris Mountain Sports proves they are as invested in the community of the outdoors as anything else. As the shop grows, the community grows. And vice versa. What else do you need, really?