Feature Article - April 2011
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Ascending on a Budget

Making Money-Smart Decisions With Climbing Walls

By Daniel P. Smith

Route Setting

The 25-foot high climbing wall at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh features 16 anchor points spanning a sculpted rock wall with a few overhangs and varying terrain. The now 4-year-old amenity is a popular recreational feature among students at the school of 13,000, one enhanced by frequent route-setting ventures that bring fresh routes and new challenges to climbers.

"I'm blessed with an avid staff that is eager and motivated to change routes," said Greg Batten, the university's coordinator for outdoor recreational programming. "Every semester, we're taking down all the handholds and cleaning them and then setting up new routes. It keeps things interesting."

Altering routes is an even more frequent occurrence at Colorado State University's campus recreation center. There, Ley's staff sets the routes with the help of a volunteer cavalry.

"We're shooting for a turnover rate of every four to five weeks," Ley said of his staff's ambitious route-setting plans.

Whereas basketball and baseball have fixed dimensions and standardized rules, climbing enjoys a freedom rarely matched in recreational outlets. Route-setting, Ley argued, is "the soul of climbing."

"The environment needs to change so you can challenge yourself against variety," he said. "The measure we're concerned with is 'Can you get it?' And once climbers successfully ascend a route, their interest drops, which is precisely why freshening routes is so critical."

Easily the most economical way to engage customers and prompt a return, route-setting is vital for any facility looking to maximize its climbing wall offerings in a cost-savvy way. In keeping routes static, Batten said, neither the facility nor its guests benefit.

"Strictly from the viewpoint of customer service, route-setting is the best way of serving customers and keeping them interested," Batten said.

Batten uses the frequent route changes at the UW-Oshkosh facility to his marketing advantage. He offers climbing competitions as well as a climbing incentive program, specifically gearing promotions to attract climbers on the fringe of becoming regulars.