Feature Article - April 2009
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The Height of Adventure

Climbing Walls for Exercise & Recreation

By Richard Zowie


If you would like to expand your options to something outside, consider challenge courses.

Similar to military obstacle or confidence courses, challenge courses are designed as "transient" learning devices where you go farther than you thought you could. Popular for corporate team-building, the courses involve teamwork and problem-solving skills.

"At the end of the day, we build things to create 'wow' experiences for people to transcend from," said Joe Lackey, who works in sales and design for a North Carolina-based designer of challenge courses. "They'll have that memory whether with group or family."

Lackey said in the past eight or nine years, there has been a shift toward high courses that are more team-oriented.

What's the main difference between climbing walls and challenge courses? According to Lackey, climbing walls are geared more toward recreation and exercise, while challenge courses are intended primarily as an educational tool.

Challenge courses are used predominantly by the military, day camps, YMCAs and for environmental education. For the military, Lackey's company serves as a contractor and builds challenges courses for basic training, general infantry training, special forces and even helicopter rappelling.

One of his company's challenge courses was used in the Sandra Bullock movie 28 Days.

As far as similarities go, both climbing walls and challenge courses typically require harnesses and helmets, and while the climbing isn't exactly the same, both require it.