Feature Article - April 2008
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Scaling New Heights

Harness the Popularity of Climbing to Take Your Facility to the Top

By Kelli Anderson

On the Ropes
Challenge Courses Still Swinging Into Action

Challenge courses, like their climbing wall cousins, continue to grow in popularity and application as groups seek them out to provide adventurous physical, emotional and psychological workouts while experiencing a healthy helping of fun to go with it. Put simply, it's going mainstream.

Although companies continue to develop a broader range of challenge course elements—team-based elements in particular—recent developments in the industry are also indicating a blurring of lines between courses used for more educational purposes versus those for recreational fun.

"The adventure and amusement line is getting blurred with the explosion of canopy tours," said Peter Aubry, a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist with a master's degree in sports leisure exercise sciences. "Ski resorts, for example, which will add an environmental component to their tours, might not call it a challenge course but it uses the same equipment. Resorts are incorporating the use of zip lines, cable walking and hiking such as the tour offered in Waifish, Mont."

Tom Zartman, president of a challenge course company out of Pineola, N.C., agreed. "We are starting to see challenge courses go recreational," he explained. "But we've had a lot of success with group-oriented high challenge courses in particular. It's still about teamwork and team-building."

Aubry also sees a movement toward more group activities, where static belay methods are ideally suited to move entire groups—such as a college orientation group of 300—though a high course more efficiently.

Resorts such as The Greenbrier in West Virginia are among those installing challenge courses to offer corporate team-building options for patrons, while hospitals are beginning to use them to for patients with disabilities, and universities are seeing the benefits to be had for their teens and young adults.

As a result of challenge courses becoming more mainstream, however, not only has the number of vendors exploded in the past 10 to 15 years, but regulations in the industry are soon to follow.

"Gone are the days of going into Camp Run-amuck with no permits," Zartman observed. "In four to five years everyone will have to have a level one or two certification—it's another indication that the industry is becoming more mainstream."

Trade organizations like the Association of Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) and the Professional Ropes Course Association (PRCA) are already developing standards, which are expected to be translated into national standards in the near future. However, some states, like Massachusetts, have decided not to wait and have issued their own regulations.