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Feature Article - March 2003

Vertical Innovations

New technology and the right programming can make your climbing wall stand out

By Kyle Ryan


They just look cool.

When there's a climbing wall in the house, it draws attention. People are mesmerized. Gone are the days of molded plastic holds bolted on to sheets of plywood. These days, technology has out-rocked rock itself. Walls look and feel so real that they give the impression you built your rec center around a natural outcropping. People will come from near and far to try it out.

PHOTO COURTESY OF LINCOLN PARK ATHLETIC CLUBA. SCOGGINGS PHOTOGRAPHER COURTESY SOLID ROCK WALL SYSTEMSPHOTO COURTESY OF SKYDEX AND DAN SMITH OF THE SPOT BOULDERING GYM
Above photos, left to right:  Danny Bobrow scales Lincoln Park Athletic Club's outdoor ice-climbing wall in Chicago; Solid Rock Gym in San Diego; The Spot Bouldering Gym in Boulder, Colo.

Or will they?

Technology, it turns out, isn't everything. Innovations in climbing walls also come from somewhere else: programming. Without it, a climbing wall is just another expensive sculpture. Take this hypothetical example.

"An owner puts a climbing wall in and puts staff out there," says Nate Postma, an executive with a manufacturer of climbing-wall systems. "He doesn't immediately get the response he wants, so pretty soon he starts cutting down on labor and hours. You can perpetuate a negative thing because people aren't using it, and they're not using it because the damn thing's never open."

The tao of climbing walls, Postma says, is this: Form a line. People aren't interested in things they don't see other people using.

"If a line forms, everyone gets in it and wants to know what it's about," he says.

Here are some developments that will help keep a line at your place.