Feature Article - April 2010
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From The Ground Up

What You Need to Know to Get Climbing Done Right

By Matthew M.F. Miller

arge-scale projects always pose planning, fundraising and building challenges for facility owners, but when the project itself is designed for scaling, the challenges can be even trickier to navigate.

Rock climbing and the use of climbing walls has become a major draw in the United States, with more than 9 million people participating in the activity each year. Popularity alone, however, isn't enough for all facility owners to jump on the bandwagon. Walls can be expensive to build and maintain, and due to the risk of injury, they require a trained staff and informed consumers.

Partner With a Pro

Investing money and time to build a well-made wall will bring a whole new adventure-seeking clientele to an existing recreation facility, as well as offer routine users a new, exciting challenge. It's an endeavor that will pay off in spades as long as the golden rule of climbing-wall construction is followed: Work with a pro.

"It is absolutely necessary to hire a professional when designing and engineering a climbing wall," said Candie Fisher, marketing director for a Boulder, Colo.-based designer and manufacturer of climbing walls and equipment. "Their specialist knowledge and expertise are well worth the cost. A climbing wall can be a very complex project. A professional designer has the experience to help you balance aesthetics, performance and budget. Hiring a professional avoids potentially costly mistakes, both in the construction, climbing experience and the long-term use of the wall."

Most importantly it will help alleviate the risks of injury. According to a recent study at the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at the Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, as climbing has gained in popularity, the number of injuries has increased as well. A recently published study revealed a 63 percent increase in the number of patients treated in U.S. emergency departments for rock-climbing-related injuries between 1990 and 2007.

"We found that the climbers who fell from heights higher than 20 feet accounted for 70 percent of the patients that were hospitalized for a rock climbing-related injury," said Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "This trend, combined with the fact that rock climbers have a higher hospitalization rate than other sports and recreational injuries, demonstrates the need to increase injury prevention efforts for climbers."

While many climbers are likely injured while scaling outdoor cliffs and rocky features, if your facility contains a climbing wall, you need to be aware of the increased risk and the importance of protecting your members and patrons. And that protection begins in the planning stages.