Feature Article - April 2017
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Reaching New Heights

Demand for Adventure Fitness on the Rise

By Rick Dandes

Risk Mitigation

People say climbing is a dangerous activity, and it can be, but modern climbing equipment, whether it is with a belayer or an auto belay, is extremely well thought out and safe, Carlson said. As long as the climber is using the equipment properly, you've mitigated a significant amount of the risk.

But as a facility owner or manager, Moore advises that you not take any chances. Protect yourself by having the appropriate waivers on hand.

"The sport is inherently dangerous," Moore said, "and that needs to be told to every person that comes through the door. Along with customers signing their waivers, make sure your staff conducts the correct orientation, so that climbers and challenge course customers understand the inner workings of the facility, what is acceptable, what is not acceptable, how to help each other out, and how to protect and spot each other."

When someone comes into a climbing gym or a challenge course, whether they use ropes or an auto belay, make sure the participant knows how to use the equipment properly. Most accidents that happen in climbing gyms are either because people are not using the equipment at all or they are using it improperly. You have to educate people, and you have to have an engaged staff that is going to be keeping an eye out for the climbers' safety.

On the climbing walls, with auto belays, the risk lies with the climber, Frain said. "If you look at any accident that has occurred with auto belay, it is because the climber did not clip in. This happens with climbers using it as a training tool, by doing a good workout, by doing laps up the wall; you get into your groove and moving from one auto belay lane to the next and then, all of a sudden, you realize that you didn't clip in and you either fall or you are stuck."

Flooring is important in preventing, or lessening injuries, Frain added. "In bouldering, you are going to eventually fall, whether you finish the route successfully or not. That is the nature of the beast. You need to make sure you have padding on the floor, which is for fall attenuation, that is thick enough to be able to successfully absorb a fall. For bouldering you generally want to have a minimum of 12 inches to 14 inches for super tall walls. For most rec centers or colleges, 12 inches is adequate."

That, when paired with appropriate training, helps prevent injuries. Have the staff teach new boulder-ers how to fall.

With challenge courses, the risk mitigation mindset has been all about the experience and having people clip themselves in as they move between different elements. But that introduced a certain level of danger, Carlson said. "Now, many facilities with challenge courses use a continuous belay. Whoever is going on the course is never, ever unclipped from a safety line. And there is nothing they can do to unclip until they get to an exit point." This is something that is becoming popular, and it has added a level of safety to this activity that hadn't been there in the past.