Feature Article - April 2004
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Hitting the Wall

How to boost climbing wall attendance

By Kyle Ryan

Climbing lite

Over the past few years, one offshoot of climbing has become particularly popular: bouldering. Essentially low-height climbing done without harnesses, it's a perfect place for beginners to start without freaking themselves out too much.

While some climbing gyms have special bouldering-specific climbing areas, climbers can boulder on any wall. At Fitplex in Chicago, Petraitis just limits the height boulderers can climb on the wall.

"They don't need to take a class or pass a test—they rent a pair of shoes, and you cut them loose in there," O'Connor says. Once they get a taste of the sport, chances are they'll want to take the next step. "At least you've got them hooked on it," he says.

10 Keys to Successful Climbing Walls

1. Personnel: Dedicated, energetic climbers know what it takes to keep the wall interesting.

2. Atmosphere/energy: A wall has to be both welcoming and have an energetic aura to it, otherwise it won't interest prospective climbers.

3. Staying current: Know what's going on in the climbing world. Go to the big conventions, read the magazines and talk to climbers.

4. Availability: The wall has to be open often enough for people to use it.

5. Route setting: Climbing routes have to be changed often (at least quarterly) to keep people coming back.

6. Technology: Take advantage of new holds, harnesses, flooring systems and auto-belaying devices. They make it easier for beginners to feel comfortable and can save you time and money in the long run.

7. Programming: Get people involved. Kids' programs create future customers. Consider programs for adults as well.

8. Bouldering: Gives people a taste of the climbing without the height and harnesses, and it can be done on any climbing wall.

9. Group events: Where the money is made. Seek out birthday parties, corporate functions, church groups, after-school programs and anything else.

10. Competitions: Great ways to bring new energy and attention to your wall. They don't have to be big productions, either, just something low-key to generate interest.