Problem Solver - August 2007
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Adding Climbing Amenities to Your Facility

We would like to add a climbing wall, but we worry about cost, high insurance premiums, and the children's safety. Is a wall out of our reach?

Absolutely not. Hundreds of gyms and YMCAs across the country have grappled with the same concerns, only to see climbing walls become an extremely popular—and affordable—programming option. Schools and youth centers have turned to climbing, in part, because it's a valuable tool in the fight against childhood obesity. Studies show that more than 15 percent of children and adolescents are overweight, more than three times the number of 30 years ago. When there's a push to get kids to exercise, the answer is almost always to enroll the child or teen in a youth sport. Such a reaction addresses the problem for many kids, but it still excludes a large segment of the population—those kids who don't have the affinity for organized athletics. Climbing gives the X Games generation a chance to tap into their exploratory nature while putting in a solid workout.

The climbing industry has helped bolster youth participation in the sport by offering a myriad of styles that fit the budget and available wall space of any school or YMCA. Some elementary schools, for example, may choose a simple 8-foot-high by 20-foot-wide wall comprised of panels that attach to an existing wall in a gymnasium. In fact, you can stretch the wall as wide as you'd like, in increments of 4 feet, and the panels can even be cut to go around attachments for outlets, volleyball net hookups and so on. Such walls can take less than a day to install, and can cost less than $5,000. Though small walls like these take up less space and have modest designs, they still are challenging enough for beginning, intermediate and advanced students. Although simple in look and design, these panels offer an effortless beauty with their mottled, granite-looking surface texture.

The real beauty of these panels is that they can be installed virtually anywhere. They easily can be added to an existing wall (or framework) indoors or outdoors to create a wall of any width or height. Climbing walls that are comprised of panels are usually one of two different styles. Pre-T-nutted plywood sheets covered with a special granite-like climbing texture provide the canvas for one style of simple climbing wall. If you want a more aesthetically pleasing wall, you can find it for just a slightly higher cost in a panel that has edges, incuts and other micro-terrain. This style of panel is meant to look more like real rock, and the micro-terrain can be used as hand and footholds by more advanced climbers. Either type of panel is quite easy to install, regardless of the substrate the panels are being attached to. The threaded inserts on the panels offer many different possibilities for route-setting. Handholds can simply be moved to create new routes or to make the wall easier or harder.

Other schools, meanwhile, have gone with more ambitious styles, such as full-height vertical climbing walls. These climbing systems provide an invaluable aesthetic element and can be custom-built to fit the needs of the facility, as well. For facilities looking for outdoor structures, the industry offers walls that can withstand the elements and can move independently of the buildings in the event of earthquakes.

Concerned about insurance premiums? You'll be interested to find out that a basketball court or swimming pool actually comes with a higher liability than a simple climbing wall. Climbing safety comes down to properly training belayers, in addition to regular maintenance. Facilities serious about their climbing programs should look for experienced climbers. Most manufacturers, along with the Climbing Wall Association, publish guidelines on maintaining equipment. Though the experts recommend regular inspections, they stress that most injuries are not the result of equipment failure. If you take care up front to properly staff and maintain your facility, and put a good, proactive risk management policy in place, your students and members will be ready to get climbing.

Nicros Inc.: