Facility Profile - January 2008
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Working With Gravity

Vertical Endeavors in St. Paul, Minn., Duluth, Minn., and Warrenville, Ill.

By Emily Tipping

To get started, organized group climbing experiences with fully trained, experienced staff help beginners build their confidence. "Beginner climbing classes offer a structured way for those ages 14 and up to develop a base of knowledge in the sport," said Noal Ronken, facility manager for the St. Paul location.

Parents may be nervous about getting their children involved in the sport of climbing, but awareness has grown in step with the industry. "As parents begin to understand the controlled environment of the indoor facility versus blindly clawing to a cliff's edge, the 'high risk' stigma has started to fade," Williams said.

Still, managing risk and supervising customers to ensure their safety are top concerns for any climbing facility. "The consequences can be severe due to the height and fall factor," Williams said. "However, the gear used for the sport, when used correctly in an indoor setting, is relatively safe provided it is properly inspected and maintained. The overwhelming majority of incidents and accidents are the result of human error or lack of training," he said, adding that like any athletes, climbers will experience typical sport injuries like strains, pulls, bumps and bruises.

Vertical Endeavors' operations revolve around providing as secure a space as possible, which includes providing the proper equipment, keeping up-to-date on facility maintenance, performing frequent inspections, and responding quickly to incidents. Training is another key component of ensuring a safe climbing facility, Williams said, with training and development continuing from the orientation process through qualifications, checkouts and floor supervision. Finding and training qualified staff has become easier as an increasing number of people have gained experience as climbers, and climbing companies like Nicros can provide comprehensive training programs.

Safety isn't the only critical focus for staff members at Vertical Endeavors though. Increasing participation, Williams explained, is all about providing excellent service.

"If somebody has a great experience in your facility, the likelihood is that they will return and bring others," he said. "Of course, a large facility with quality routes and extensive programming helps to open the sport to more people, but it does not matter how amazing the gym is, if people do not have a good experience. Increasing a climbing customer base begins and ends with customer service."

With staffing and safety firmly in hand, Vertical Endeavors' three locations prove that climbing is within reach for virtually any facility. And with the introduction of simple paneled walls, adding indoor climbing has become more affordable for schools, gyms and recreation centers operating on smaller budgets.

Williams said he believes climbing walls will continue to sprout in recreation centers, health clubs and schools for some time. "There may be a day in which every other school has a bouldering wall in their gymnasium, and maybe one out of 10 has a standard top-rope climbing wall and programs, he said.


Vertical Endeavors:

Nicros Inc.: