Feature Article - April 2007
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Altitude with Attitude

Building Your Climbing Business by Catering to Kids

By Stacy St. Clair

Keep them coming back

Once you get the kids climbing, it's critical to offer programming that keeps them coming back.

Some gyms have dedicated "youth hours," during which patrons under 15 can enjoy the facilities. This gives teens and tweens a sense of having their own space, without being intimidated by adult climbers.

If you decide to go this route, consider designating the early afternoon hours as a youth climb time. This helps keep your gym busy during the day when older patrons are typically at the office. Adult climbers appreciate such programs because it thins out the crowds in the busier evening hours and gives the gym a more mature atmosphere at night.

Many climbing facilities also achieve great success by establishing youth climbing teams. By forming a competitive climbing club, recreation managers give the X Games generation a chance to compete in an adrenaline-pumping sport. At the same time, parents get the comfort of knowing their children are learning the benefits of working with a team to achieve something.

"They still have the feel of doing sports and getting physical activity," Bauknight said. "Instead of doing your typical football, soccer or swimming, they're climbing."

To make the youth programs more inviting, some facilities offer discounted memberships to kids who join their teams. USA Climbing also has bolstered the sport with local, national and international competitions. The contests—which boast bouldering, sport and speed events—are offered for various age groups.

The association currently has 6,400 members, including 13 percent who are 11 years old or younger. Another 35 percent are between the ages of 12 and 15, while an additional 30 percent are ages 16 through 21.

Of the organization's roughly 5,000 youth members, 40 represent the United States in international competitions. Team USA has traveled to Bulgaria, Austria, China and Ecuador, among other places. A chance to represent the country abroad gives kids extra incentives to train and participate in national meets.

"It's a real honor for the kids who are on the team," Bauknight said. "It's something they can aim for."

The thought of starting competitive programming may be daunting for some gyms, but it shouldn't be. If you've got a wall, you pretty much have everything you need. USA Climbing offers coaching symposiums, extensive educational programs that teach participants how to train, encourage and attract athletes.

"There's not much overhead," Bauknight said. "You just need the facility and the desire to do it."

Once you've tapped into the youth market, it's critical not to let you facility become an indoor nursery. It helps to schedule classes and team practices after school, when most adults are still at work.

But really, the best way to control the atmosphere is to have everyone—from the 6-year-old climber to her 60-year-old grandmother—follow the same rules.

"We keep our kids accountable," Vertical Endeavors' Ronken said. "It becomes like they are just another climber in the gym."