Feature Article - April 2011
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Ascending on a Budget

Making Money-Smart Decisions With Climbing Walls

By Daniel P. Smith

Modular Walls

After nearly a dozen years of fundraising and planning efforts, the Flagstaff Family YMCA in Arizona opened in April 2010. According to executive director Paul Giguere, a climbing wall was a part of the leadership's vision from day one.

After consulting other branches in its local 17-member YMCA Association and researching the options, Giguere's team decided on a modular wall. Largely driven by affordability, the ease of assembly and maintenance, as well as flexibility to expand or alter the amenity as necessary, the modular wall carried a compelling sales pitch.

Available in wall units or freestanding towers, modular walls are most often built using fiberglass panels. Once derided for their manufactured look, today's modular walls can feature a realistic, earthy look combined with a texture to better resemble the natural elements on which they're based.

Modular walls' real attraction comes in price, however. In some cases, modular climbing walls sit as low as $10,000. While Giguere acknowledged the "incredible things that can be done with walls today," a cost-effective strategy led the Flagstaff facility to select the modular wall option, which Giguere discovered to be approximately one-third the cost of more elaborate walls.

"At the root of choosing a modular wall for our facility was really costs," he said. "It often comes down to who's paying for it."

Flagstaff sits at 7,000 feet and provides first-rate climbing and bouldering opportunities within a short drive, so Giguere said there was no way his facility was going to build the perfect wall or rival the enticing natural routes accessible to local residents—yet another reason the modular wall option made perfect sense. Rather, the Flagstaff YMCA team looked at their wall as a gateway to a new hobby, an invitation for interested climbers to get their start in a safe, accessible environment before tackling the region's natural terrain.

"The biggest focus of our wall was to introduce people to the sport, to connect with those who have thought about climbing, but never done it," Giguere said.

Upon entering the facility, the 30-foot-high modular climbing wall is immediately visible, which Giguere believes entices participation. The attraction has been "overwhelming popular," Giguere added, while climbing wall camps and clinics, particularly with children, have all recorded high participation.

"The route selection accommodates all climbers, including children, and that's allowed the wall to become one of our most popular amenities," he said. "I couldn't imagine our center without the wall."