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

Getting It Right

So what exactly makes a climbing wall good?

Moore said that there is no single answer to this question, as climbing walls are installed for a wide variety of reasons. But, he added, "The best climbing wall is the one that is doing the most for its owner. It may be the most fun, the most beautiful or the one that attracts the most people."

Mrvos said that a good climbing wall is one that is functional for people of varying ages and ability levels. This functionality can be achieved through varying angles on the climbing wall (slabs, overhangs, roofs) and through varied handholds (small, medium, large/easy, advanced). There should be enough t-nuts to allow for the climbing handholds to be regularly rearranged. That way, the facility will continually be able to create new and interesting climbing routes without spending more money. This maintains interest in the wall and keeps climbers of varying ability levels challenged.

"A good climbing wall also has safety features and an appropriate safety and risk management protocol in place," Mrvos said.

She also recommends visiting a facility with a climbing wall before you buy. There are many different styles, from authentic-looking rock to candy-colored units, and seeing walls in person will give facility operators a better idea of what they will be purchasing.

"This will give you a visual picture of what a wall looks like, as well as the features that it hosts," she said. "In addition, it will give you the opportunity to ask questions of people who have experience with climbing, and how it was received by their program participants."

For flooring, mats are the most commonly used safety feature to improve impact attenuation, as head injuries caused by falls are a common injury.

"The mats fold up and attach to the climbing wall to close the wall," Mrvos said. "This not only reduces access to the wall when it is closed, it also provides padding and protrusion protection for anyone who might run into the wall during another activity."

Fisher said that wile there is no flooring standard in the climbing industry, her company recommends a 5 1/2-inch-thick dual density foam system with a flame-laminated carpet surface.

"This flooring is sturdy enough to support a ladder for route setting, but able to absorb the shock of a fall," she said. Also, make sure the wall you purchase meets the Climbing Wall Association safety standards. Ask the manufacturer from which you purchase to outline their safety standards prior to purchase.

Aside from not accounting for proper safety precautions, Mrvos believes that the biggest mistake some facilities make is focusing on advanced climbers and not offering a wall that welcomes beginners, too.

"The long-term picture should also be kept in mind," she said. "We have had customers build 'small' and find the need to quickly add to their wall. Another big mistake is not having ongoing training of staff and not having a risk management plan in place."