Feature Article - April 2012
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Reaching New Heights

The Evolution of Climbing Walls & Challenge Courses

By Chris Gelbach


Experts agree that effective course design can enhance this team-building dynamic. Charleston County replaced its previous-generation tower and pole-style high course with a new course design in 2010. While the previous pole course could only have one person up on an element at a time, the new course allows up to six people to go through the course and be on each of the elements together. "It helps solidify the idea that there is a team up in the air together having to work through those elements," said Palka.

Ley recommends designing a challenge course for groups with bushes or other elements as separation so that two disparate groups can use the course at the same time, and stresses that offering a variety of course elements is critical for attracting repeat visitors. "We have clients that return year after year and have never repeated the same experience," said Ley. "Variety of structures gives you flexibility in programming."

Hepler recommends also thinking from the start about where you see the program going. "You should be intentional in planning for any future growth," she said. "Where do you see the facility in five years? In 10 years?" Consider also whether an access-prevention plan will be needed for the course when it's unattended. And look at the expected life of both the course and of required equipment. "One harness may be manufactured by a company that recommends it be replaced in five years, another by a company that recommends it be replaced in 10. It's important that managers be aware of these considerations when purchasing equipment," said Hepler.

The kinds of groups you want to serve should also shape both course design and staffing decisions. "The facilitators are the product," said CSU's Ley. "If you hire high school and college students, you'll have a high school/college program. We have several people with master's degrees and licensed family therapists on staff and can deliver a really high-quality program for rehabilitation groups. We work with Larimer County Correction inmates. You can't do that with high school and college facilitators."