Get A Grip On Climbing Walls

Before changing the routes and difficulty level, consider the needs, wants and skill levels of patrons. “We have route setters every day changing out routes,” says Johnston. “We don’t like a route being up more than three months because we have heavy traffic in our gyms.”

Developing Enthusiasts

Many people will give climbing a try, but few will become enthusiasts unless staff is dedicated to excellent customer service beyond rerouting the wall.

“The retention rate is low, but that is due to the atmosphere that doesn’t bring people back,” says Johnston. “You have to provide a quality climb as well as great customer service, routes and instruction.”

The following is a list of considerations for developing a wall-climbing program with dedicated enthusiasts:


“You don’t want to go really high; it takes too long on rotation,” says Johnston. “A 30-foot-high wall is optimum.” The rotation time–or time it takes for a person to climb the wall–should be about 30 minutes.


There are two camps in belaying — auto and manual. Auto-belays work well for places that might not have the staffing capabilities to have a person belay for each climber, but need to provide a safe way for people to experience the climb. Manual belays require a person to be vigilant at the other end of the rope, and work well when staffing and instruction time are ample.


Good instructors and staff can be found by looking for quality rock climbers who are effective with customer service. “It is important to get people who understand the sport and the challenges,” says Johnston. Another option is to get a crew of people who are enthusiastic about the program and have them trained by certified trainers.

In regards to route setting, there are consultants who specialize in that. “Several of the vendors who build walls have route-setters on staff,” says Zimmermann.


If you host competitions, certified route-setters with prior experience should be hired. You may also want to develop a climbing team to compete at a regional level leading to the World Cup.

Focusing on youth programs but also having programs for every level of expertise will allow for developing enthusiasts. Many climbing walls offer programming to other youth groups, such as boys and girls clubs, scouts and church groups.

“We put a lot of money and effort into the youth program,” says Johnston. “The adults are more word-of-mouth.”


To get the word out about the climbing tower at a specific facility, consider advertising in local parenting and children’s magazines. However, the most important form of advertising will come from climbers. “This industry thrives on word-of-mouth,” says Johnston. “Once people get up there on the wall, they will talk about it to others.”

A climbing wall–whether mobile or stationary–will provide a facility an additional physically challenging and emotionally rewarding experience for patrons. If you take the time to properly select and train staff, as well as maintain the routes to keep climbers challenged, it also can provide a revenue stream to help your park develop additional programs.

Tammy York is a freelance copywriter specializing in outdoor sports and recreation. Her upcoming book, “60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Cincinnati,” will be available spring 2009. Contact her at

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