Feature Article - April 2014
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Ascending Appeal

Boosting Interest in Your Climbing Wall or Challenge Course

By Chris Gelbach

The Bigger, the Better

As the activities grow in popularity, climbing walls and challenge courses are appearing on a grander scale than ever before. Chester noted that while it was once more common for larger fitness centers to focus mainly on fitness, and perhaps have a small climbing wall, he's now seeing the opposite. That is, large multimillion-dollar climbing facilities that incorporate general fitness in a smaller way. "It might be a main 20,000-square-foot area of climbing, but they're also adding yoga, fitness machines and endurance machines. We're seeing big growth in that," he said.

Climbing walls and challenge courses also are being built in an array of larger adventure parks on a scale rarely seen before. For instance, 2013 marked the debut of the largest manmade outdoor rock climbing structure in the world, with 60,000 square feet of rock climbing terrain. It is part of the Boy Scouts of America's extreme sports village at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Mount Hope, W.Va.

"At the Jamboree last year, we put almost 40,000 scouts through rock climbing courses over a seven-day period," said Wells. "We just introduced 40,000 people to our sport over the course of a week—and I guarantee we changed some people's lives."

Meanwhile, the City of Chicago is currently building Maggie Daley Park, which is set to include the largest manufactured climbing space open to the public in the world, with more than 19,000 square feet of climbing surface.

On the challenge course side, more complex, multilevel courses are also appearing as part of larger sports complexes and adventure parks. "Everybody is trying to add everything they can—that's the whole trick," said Liggett.

One such example is the Oklahoma City Boathouse District, where Liggett's firm built a free-fall experience, a variety of zip lines and a six-level ropes course that Liggett said includes the tallest slide in America. "They wanted to build a destination," he said. "It's a critical mass of things, and these guys are knocking it out of the park on the weekends. Everybody's coming like crazy and climbing all over this thing and having a great time."

At the same time, ever-increasing options for indoor jungle gym elements and obstacle courses also give facilities on modest budgets more options to introduce kids to challenge by choice on a small scale.

As the sport of indoor climbing continues to grow in popularity with legitimate chances of becoming an Olympic event in the near future, climbing wall and challenge course manufacturers see no end in sight. And they see the fun and social aspects of these activities as being the driver of this growth.

"Our sport is terribly social," said Wells of climbing. "A rock climbing wall is the only place in a world where CEOs of high-level Fortune 500 companies are being belayed by guys who live in their van. It's a place where people are finding commonality and a way for people to enjoy fitness and get their social fix."