Problem Solver - August 2009
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Encouraging New Climbers

When you add a climbing wall to your facility, you will automatically draw in people who are naturally attracted to climbing. But what can you do to encourage new climbers to get involved in the sport?

Q: What should I do to protect my facility—and my new climbers?

A: New climbers shouldn't be scared to participate in rock climbing due to inherent risk. There is risk in every activity you participate in—even walking across the street could have catastrophic consequences. New climbers may be concerned about the inherent risk of climbing. If you take the right steps to reduce risk, you'll be able to reassure them with confidence that your facility has a good risk management program in place.

Waivers are essential to reduce your own risk, but they also serve to remind the participant of the importance of following proper procedures to protect themselves. After they sign a waiver, all participants should take part in an orientation program. You can find a training program for your facility that will train your staff to orient and train new participants.

Proper staff training is also essential. It will increase the comfort level of new climbers, and while you can never completely remove risk from any situation, you can control the environment with proper risk management procedures.

Q: We'd like to encourage new climbers, but we don't have a lot of extra staff at our facility. How can we show people that it is simple to get started climbing in a controlled environment?

A: The addition of auto belays to a climbing wall or the inclusion of auto belays in a new construction project removes barrier to entry for new participants. Anybody can try the sport without having the need for a knowledgeable and experienced belayer. New climbers simply clip in and climb without having to depend on a partner. When they fall or get to the top of the climb, they simply let go and slowly return to the ground. As an added benefit, this also reduces staffing needs, as you'll need fewer belayers.

If you're concerned about safety with auto belays, consider adding an auto belay safety system. Accidents can occur when climbers fail to clip into the auto belay. An auto belay safety system provides climbing wall owners and operators a way to monitor the use of the auto belay, using cutting-edge technology to determine whether a climber on the wall is attached to the auto belay device.

A sensor on the bolt hanger on the wall detects when the auto belay rope is unclipped from the wall. Arrays of sensors detect a climber's body crossing a specific height. The logic system compares the inputs and determines if the auto belay is still attached to the wall when something crosses the sensor field of view. If it's not, an alarm will sound and light will change color to alert the climber and the facility staff.

The height at which the alarm sounds can be customized. This is perfect for climbing facilities that also allow bouldering. Boulderers will be able to climb, but if they pass standard bouldering height on the wall, the alarm will sound.

Q: How can I use my wall as a marketing tool to encourage new participants to try the sport, as well as check out other parts of our facility?

A: You can use programming to encourage new participants to engage in climbing. Offer beginner classes for specific ages or other groups. A ladies' beginner climbing night, for example, will give new climbers a supportive, non-threatening environment to try out your wall.

Adding rock-climbing-centered youth programming, such as climbing classes by age level, day camps, birthday parties and events for outside groups such as scouts or churches, will encourage new participants to try the wall, and will also act as a feeder program to other programs and activities at your facility.

Nicros Inc. Climbing Wall Systems: