Feature Article - March 2013
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The Perfect Ascent

The Next Wave in Climbing Walls

By Brian Summerfield

Inside Out

In addition to selling climbing walls, Rasch is an avid climber herself. She got started in high school, but really got into the sport while attending college at Texas A&M. "They had a really nice climbing wall there," she said.

Today, she makes her home in Boulder, Colo., a city she calls a "Mecca" of rock climbing. Being in the Rockies, there is no shortage of spots for climbers to engage in their sport in the great outdoors. Does that mean there are no indoor walls? Not at all. Rasch said there are three large commercial gyms devoted exclusively to climbing serving this city of approximately 100,000. They even have niches, she said: One is more devoted to bouldering, while another is heavily affiliated with mountaineering.

Why are there so many climbing gyms in a place with an abundance of free outdoor options? Well, there's the weather, for one thing. "There's outdoor climbing, but in the winter months it's great to go to a gym to climb," Rasch said.

Additionally, even in areas where there is a strong outdoor climbing culture, it helps to have indoor options close to where most of the people live for the sake of convenience. "Beyond being viewed as a backup, being an indoor climber can augment your ability to train," Rasch said. "If you don't have time, you can still get in your workout in an hour at the gym. And someone who's never gone climbing before can start out indoors."

Recreational facilities and health clubs can also schedule off-site outdoor sessions for new to intermediate climbers who need the assistance, she added.

Getting Competitive

In addition to the recreational side of the sport, competitive climbing is on the rise in the United States and around the world. In fact, climbing is on the short list of new sports being considered for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games, a decision that will be made in September 2013, said Kynan Waggoner, operations director of USA Climbing.

"That's indicative of the growth of the sport of competition climbing," he said. "All we're seeing is growth in terms of competition."

That's good news for Waggoner, as his organization has a simple mission: "To grow the sport of climbing." Waggoner, who has been an active participant in the sport since the late 1990s, has been with USA Climbing since 2006. Prior to that, he had years of experience placing route settings at climbing competitions.

With the right setup, many recreation or health and wellness facilities could serve as sites for some climbing competitions, Waggoner said. "The requirements of size at the championship level are usually cost-prohibitive," he explained. "But recreation centers can have an effective climbing wall for local-level events or even regional events."

However, they need to meet a few qualifications in order to host a competition. The biggest is that the climbing walls cannot be designed to resemble real rock. "You can't have fixed features," Waggoner said. "For competitions, we need to have clean surfaces and modular handholds."

Additionally, there should be ample open areas available for spectators, and the spaces must be reasonably well-lit and clean, Waggoner said. However, the standards here are not necessarily explicit and may vary from situation to situation.