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

All in the Family

From boulders in playgrounds to climbing walls in daycare centers to schools using climbing walls for fitness fun, kids of recent generations are more familiar than ever with the climbing experience, and they're bringing their parents along for the ride.

With parents looking for more ways to connect with their kids, climbing walls are becoming a popular family-building activity. "One thing we are seeing more is parents getting certified to belay so they can belay their own kids," Buckmaster said. "They want to be the ones to see them succeed and overcome. It turns into a great family time."

And it's a win-win for the facility. Although the climbing wall at the Northwest Branch YMCA is staffed two to three hours each day during prime time, non-staffed hours allow adults with belay certification to still use the wall and to include their kids or friends.

What is even more compelling is the climbing wall and bouldering structure's ability to attract the most elusive of recreational facility clientele—the teenager.

"This boulder is the only thing we have that teenagers play on," Urbanowicz said. "We can go out to the park after school today and find teenagers all over it. We also find moms and dads climbing it while their younger kids are playing on other features. The focus with our parks department is to offer more things for teens. This filled our niche."

For facilities more focused on climbing programming, teen response is outright phenomenal. For MetroRock, a climbing gym in Everett, Mass., which opened its cavernous facility to urban-dwellers in 2004, teens and college students have become a big part of their clientele, thanks to savvy marketing and programming.

"The biggest change is new climbers and a shift in a lot more youth," said Bruce Yap, owner and manager of the facility. "Our Newburyport location has strong high school teams who hang out there. Bands play there—it's a cool place to hang out. Parents like it too—it's a safe environment."

MetroRock's most notable success began with their early recognition of Facebook's value as a teen marketing tool, followed by the creation of a Friday Night Rocks program, a designated student night to which the teens flocked and brought their friends. From there programming has gone on to include theme nights, mini-competitions, glow-in-the-dark climbing and live music performances. For an activity that retains its "edgy" persona but is statistically safer than riding in a car and has less injuries than more familiar sports like gymnastics or soccer, climbing is a perfect draw for kids wanting something at which they can feel successful and even cool.