Feature Article - April 2007
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Altitude with Attitude

Building Your Climbing Business by Catering to Kids

By Stacy St. Clair

The war on obesity

Climbing's popularity comes at an opportunistic—and critical—time 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. This is where climbing can become an important ally in the war against obesity. The activity gives the X Games generation a chance to tap into their exploratory nature while putting in a solid workout.

"All the traditional sports tend to be team-oriented and competitive. There are a lot of kids who don't excel in that environment, and they really feel left out," said Noal Ronken, facility manager for Vertical Endeavors in St. Paul, Minn. "There's an excitement about climbing. It promotes a sense of adventure."

Ronken has taken this message to local schools, where he offers his facility as a willing partner in the effort to engage children in physical activity. His marketing efforts include calling the schools and offering his gym as an off-campus location for physical education programs. Kids who participate in the classes are given coupons to encourage return visits.

"It's becoming more common for schools to offer alternative sports," Ronken said. "It works very easily into efforts to fight childhood obesity. It's great physical exercise, and it's very fun for the kids."

Schools aren't the only way to get kids in the door. In fact, nothing helps promote climbing gyms better than birthday parties. Parties expose facilities to potential patrons—both the ones who were always curious about the sport and those who would never think about giving it a try.

At Vertical Endeavors, the Saturday schedule is filled with as many as 10 parties. The celebration includes all of the standard birthday fare, such as a party room, gift opening and a cake. The staff members also lead the group in games such as wall twister, candy hidden in the hand grips and sightless scales, in which the other kids direct a blindfolded climber.

Before the climbing begins, however, the kids receive a full orientation that includes an explanation of the sport and all its safety rules. Instructors also demonstrate various aspects of climbing, especially thrilling endeavors like ceiling climbing.

"We show them what the sport can become," Ronken said. "We show them how exciting it can be."