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Customers experience bank heist at Gnarly Escapes

Small Business Spotlight

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IDAHO FALLS – You’re inside a bank. Your objective is to break into the safety deposit box and grab as much money as you can. There is also a certain item locked inside one of the boxes. Once you learn what the item is, your job is to find it and escape with it and the cash in hand. If you fail to bring both of these things with you, you will die.

You may recognize this scene from many bank heist thrillers.

bank heist

In this case, it is also a room inside Gnarly Escapes in Idaho Falls. Gnarly Escapes is an escape room with a focus on storytelling.

“What I like about escape rooms is the puzzle-solving element, but I also try to bring the movie world into it. We want it to feel like you’re in a movie scene,” owner Joel Erickson tells

Joel Erickson works as a sound effects editor in the film business. He did sound design for movies like “Transformers 3,” “World War Z” and the second “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie. With Gnarly Escapes, he capitalizes on his sound production experience by incorporating sound effects and other elements that enhance the realism of the experience, he says.

“This escape is centered more on set design and the realism of the surrounding environment,” Erickson says.

During the game, for example, you interact with the game master, who is playing the role of the getaway driver. The game master uses a voice scrambler, much like you’d hear in a movie where the kidnapper calls up asking for ransom, to disguise his voice.


Unlike other escape rooms, Erickson says this one is not about speed.

“It’s about how much money you can get out with. So you want to use the full hour to get as much loot from the vault and safety deposit box as you can,” Erickson says.

Hunter Lewis, the manager of Gnarly Escapes, says the variables of the game are always changing, which makes it an experience worth repeating.

“You have a connection with the game master, who plays different people. You’re trying to find different clues and hints. There are different prizes in the boxes,” Lewis says.

The prizes include things like gift cards to restaurants. Whether you get the prize depends on which box you open. But as Erickson would tell you, it’s not the prize but the experience that counts.

Lewis says he enjoys watching people play the game and participating with them.

“It’s a fun activity to spend an hour of your time with. It’s unlike any escape room you’ll go to,” says Lewis. “It’s a very challenging task.”

Erickson says the bank heist is just the first experience. He plans to open two more within the next few months, including a zombie escape and a two-player buried-alive game.

“The (buried-alive game) will not be for the feint of heart,” says Erickson.

gnarly escapes

Gnarly Escapes is at 1495 Foote Drive near the airport in Idaho Falls. It’s inside the old Thrifty rental car building. It’s open Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 11 p.m. The cost is $16 for kids and $22 for adults.