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The Climbing Wall Association's newly-launched blog is a place for indoor climbing industry professionals to find useful and relevant information from industry and business experts. Stay on top of best practices, thought leadership, and trends by subscribing to Thrive - A Climbing Business Blog! www.climbingwallindustry.org/lines

 

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Top tags: leadership  operations  staff training  management  company culture  customer experience  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  risk management  community development  programming  standards  customer satisfaction  routesetting management  youth training  coaching  routesetting  staff retention  work-at-height  youth team  certifications  climbing culture  marketing  OSHA  member acquisition  member retention  workplace diversity  employee turnover  CWA Meetings 

Effective Workplace Training

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Workplace Training

Of all the methods of managing risk that climbing facilities employ, a robust training program is one of the most effective means of reducing accident rates for visitors and workers alike.

 

Studies have consistently shown that the likelihood of an accident is higher in the first month of employment and decreases with time. One study in particular that examined workers’ compensation claims [1] showed that workers on the job were four times more likely to have an accident in the first month compared to workers that had been employed for a year.

 

Therefore, timeliness in training new employees or employees that have been assigned new duties is critical to ensuring their safety.

 

Training, with all its methodologies, approaches, analysis of retention, measures of effectiveness, etc. is a wide-ranging, voluminous topic. This article touches on a few of these areas but focuses primarily on safety and health program training and presents some guidelines for improving your local program.

 

At the end of this article are some links to training resources and articles that may be helpful in evaluating and improving your current program.

 

Types of Training

The purpose of training, by definition, is to impart a particular skill or type of behavior such that it improves performance. Training is intended to prepare a person for a job, a task, or a specific set of circumstances.

 

There are multiple approaches and methods of delivering training: web-based, audio-video, operational, experiential, lecture, coaching, and in-service or on-the-job training are a few forms. A sound approach is to ensure the training translates directly to the workplace.

 

While there are web-based modules available that “check the box” for a training requirement, these are not necessarily the most effective means for ensuring an employee is competent in a particular area. To achieve a level of competency, one should customize the learning to their facility and circumstances.

 

Safety and Employee Orientation Training

Workplace safety training is a requirement to protect workers from injuries and illnesses. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.9 Subpart A [2], states that, “The employer must train each affected employee in the manner required by the standard…” based on the type of work performed, an analysis of workplace hazards, and a worker’s level of responsibility.

 

The type of safety training required is based on the type of work performed and varies with departments. Some specific programs to consider include the following:

  • Fall Protection, Including Slips, Trips, and Falls
  • Emergency Action Planning and Fire Prevention Plans
  • Powered Platforms, Manlifts, and Vehicle-Mounted Work Platforms (for those facilities that use this equipment)
  • Occupational Noise Exposure (Hearing Protection)
  • Electrical Safety
  • Confined Space Entry (for controlled access areas behind or inside climbing walls)
  • First Aid, CPR, and AED
  • General Housekeeping and Storage

 

Training for Specialized Work

Specialized work includes job tasks that are unique in nature and require particular skill sets, techniques, and equipment in order to accomplish the work.

 

Routesetting is an example of specialized training. There are key elements, based on the terrain (i.e. bouldering, top-roping, lead terrain), the tools (ex: impact drills), and the equipment (ex: aerial lifts and ladders).

 

Beyond the technical and creative aspects of creating functional and worthwhile routes, safety is paramount for routesetters. It’s important to identify those requiring specialized training and only allow those who have received training and demonstrated a sufficient level of competency as authorized to perform such work.

 

In other words, if a staff member has not received formal training on work-at-height and routesetting they should not be performing that work unsupervised.

 

The Evaluation Phase

Hosting a brief “tailgate meeting” safety session about a topic and assuming everyone is trained is not sufficient to ensure competency. Incorporate an evaluation phase into training wherein employees are challenged on their understanding and performance and a measure of retention can be determined.

 

Evaluations can differ in form and function based on the type of training but some examples include quizzes, peer assessments, and skill challenges followed by constructive feedback.

 

Written Programs

A written training program is the roadmap that drives your training program. A well-conceived written training program is not burdensome – it sets expectations, identifies requirements, and acts to empower employees and management alike.

 

It is used as a policy document that shows what your training standards are, it helps to ensure everyone is receiving an appropriate and consistent level of training, and it provides a reference from which to work.

 

At a minimum, an annual review of your training program should be performed to check on changes to facilities, equipment, tools, and work practices – your training program should be updated accordingly and subsequently, refresher training should be performed and documented.

 

Training Development

When workers have a voice in the workplace and input about how training is developed, training programs are more effective. It is often the employees that come to know their tasks and working conditions the best and are acutely aware of the hazards.

 

Your staff can point out the strengths and weaknesses in a program. Incorporate employee input into the development and delivery of training.

 

Retraining and Refresher Training

According to OSHA, retraining is required when there is a change in work practices, tools, or procedures. For some programs, refresher training is required.

 

However, even if refresher training is not required, it is a good habit to ensure employees have the necessary level of competency.

 

Continuing education opportunities are a great means of ensuring that knowledge is being disseminated through the team, that problem areas are being addressed, and that there are not gaps in work practices. Likewise, refresher trainings, skill assessments, and certifications should be documented.

 

Training Records

You have probably heard the saying, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.” The same goes for documenting training.

 

Typically, if a worker is injured and there is an investigation or claim one of the first questions is: “Did the employee receive adequate training to do the job?” If the answer is “yes,” but you do not have the documentation, then there is no record of when or if the training actually occurred.

 

OSHA recommends that employers maintain training records for a period of five years, but requirements may vary based on state laws and insurance. The best practice is to maintain a record of all training and certifications for each employee.

 

Setting up a training record system can be as simple or complex as you’d like. Not sure where to start? Download our sample training tracker as an example resource.

 

In conclusion, an effective training program is essential to maintain worker safety, accomplish work effectively, and meet State and Federal regulations, and insurance requirements. Involve your employees, implement a robust program, and don’t leave the program on the shelf - review it, refine it, and adjust it as necessary.

 

References:

[1] Trial by fire: a multivariate examination of the relation between job tenure and work injuries
[2] Training Requirements in OSHA Standards

 

Additional Articles:

- Exceed Safety Training to Increase Operational Learning and Safety at Work
- Training Effectiveness - A Quality By Design Approach

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron Gibson is a climber of over 27 years and an EOSH Professional specializing in fall protection, health, and safety. He holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Epidemiology & Toxicology and has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental health and safety serving local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing industry as a safety industry consultant/expert, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, USA Climbing certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  certifications  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  operations  OSHA  risk management  routesetting management  staff training  standards  work-at-height 

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CWA Meetings: Calgary Recap

Posted By Emily Moore, Monday, August 19, 2019
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2019
CWA Meetings Calgary Attendees

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

Last week, the Climbing Wall Association team launched the first-ever CWA Meetings event in partnership with Calgary Climbing Centre!

 

Over the summer, we have heard from many of you who have questions about this brand-new program: what are CWA Meetings all about, who are these events intended for, and where are you headed next?

 

Let’s take a deeper look into CWA Meetings through the lens of our first event in Calgary.

 

Specialized Job Training

CWA Meetings are job training events by design. A ticket to a CWA Meetings event gives you access to:

  • One full day of workshops, for hands-on skills training
  • One full conference day, for discussion and lecture-based training

When you sign up for the event, you will select a content track that best aligns with your role in a climbing gym. This designation will determine the workshops, roundtables, and lectures you participate in for the duration of the event.

 

CWA Meetings content tracks include:

  • Routesetter, designed for routesetting staff, or head routesetters
  • Management/Operations Staff, designed for front desk managers, gym managers, and gym frontline staff
  • Adult/Youth Instruction, designed for program coordinators, trainers, and commercial coaching staff (competition coaching is not addressed)

 

Routesetters Workshop

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

Community Building

Since CWA Meetings are regional events, the program calls in attendees from gyms in the surrounding area to connect with and learn from each other. Building these relationships is an opportunity to strengthen our industry, broaden professional networks, and keep dialogue open among different climbing facilities.

 

Aside from the conference curriculum, CWA Meetings offers a Member Meetup, which invites gym staff from the region (not just attendees) to socialize and make new connections.

 

Management Roundtable

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

How Do CWA Meetings Differ from the CWA Summit?

CWA Meetings offer a unique opportunity to spend several days collaborating with folks in similar job functions. Unlike the CWA Summit, which offers a broad set of conference topics and a full-blown trade show, CWA Meetings are highly focused.

 

Upon registration for a Meeting, you select a track and then remain with that track from start-to-finish. The three tracks contain their own workshops, lectures, and roundtables in a highly engaged learning environment. The CWA selected top workshop facilitators and presenters who can offer a meaningful experience and help hone important skills for each attendee.

 

Additionally, the curriculum goals of CWA Meetings are largely suited towards early and mid-career professionals. While upper-level management are best-served by the Summit, CWA Meetings are built for growth-oriented professionals who are seeking to increase their professional responsibilities through training, discussion, and certification.

 

Management Roundtable

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

Tell Me About CWA Meetings in Calgary!

Not only was this the first CWA Meetings event, this was the first CWA event in Canada. Let’s take a quick look at the event by the numbers:

  • 1 outstanding host facility (Calgary Climbing Centre)
  • 13 facilities in attendance across 3 Canadian provinces and 2 U.S. states
  • 4 workshops
  • 1 keynote
  • 1 film
  • 3 breakout presentations (1 per track)
  • 6 roundtables (2 per track)
  • 2 product presentations

Here’s a look at the event from our attendees’ viewpoint:

 

“CWA Meetings Calgary was a terrific event. I participated in the Youth & Adult Instruction track, and the information was fresh, well presented, informative and extremely applicable. CWI Provider course was also very well run and is such a great certification to have. Facilities, logistics and communication were also very good. Well worth the trip from Chicago!”

- Dave Hudson, Co-owner and Program Coordinator, First Ascent Climbing and Fitness

 

“I found the whole event to be great opportunity to meet other setters and see where standards are at the moment. We have a lot of work ahead. But this event created that energy to keep pushing leaning and standards in the right direction.”

- Juan Henriquez, Head Setter, Calgary Climbing Centre Hanger

 

“CWA events are a necessity for newer gyms. It allows you to get all of your staff up to speed with the industry in a very short amount of time. Send them to it.”

- Terry Paholek, BLOCS

 

Get Involved

The strength of CWA Meetings is found in a diverse representation of facilities and attendees who can contribute a variety of ideas and experience to the event. Don’t miss out on taking part in year one of CWA Meetings!

 

Check out our CWA Meetings Hoboken and CWA Meetings San Francisco events coming up:

  • Hoboken: September 16-20
  • San Francisco: October 21-25

Register yourself or your staff today for CWA Meetings! If you have questions, you can email Emily Moore at emily@climbingwallindustry.org.

 

REGISTER

 

Tags:  certifications  coaching  customer experience  customer service  CWA Meetings  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  member retention  operations  programming  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  standards  work-at-height  youth training 

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Child Care, Risk Management & Member Retention

Posted By Laura Allured, Monday, August 19, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Child Care in Your Climbing Gym

Most gym owners consider offering child care to members at some point, but does it make sense for your gym?

 

There are advantages to offering child care; it’s a great benefit to members with children and can give your climbing gym a competitive advantage over gyms that don’t offer child care.

 

On the other hand, it’s difficult to create a child care program that generates revenue, so you have to carefully consider your financial model. Plus, child care presents additional liability, which you’ll need to address with thorough risk management strategies.

 

The advantages and disadvantages to child care are numerous, but does it make sense for your business strategy, brand, and members?

 

Any new business offering is an investment, and while regulations for child care vary state to state, there are a few things to consider before deciding if offering child care is a good investment for you.

 

Do You Have the Real Estate for It?

If you are considering offering child care, the obvious first consideration is whether or not you have the real estate for it. Is there an area of your gym that you can re-purpose to a child care area?

 

The area that you use for child care needs to be appropriate for the children that you will care for – the last thing you want is to end up on an unhappy parent's blog.

 

When considering the type of space will need, you’ll need to know:

  • What are the regulations in your state for child care; child to care giver ratios, background checks, cameras in care areas, first aid and CPR certifications?
  • What type of facilities do you need for infants and toddlers?
  • Will you have a separate bathroom for child care?
  • What type of child care do you want to offer: full-service, basic supervision, member co-op, an open play area, kids-specific classes?

 

What Do Your Members Want?

Polling your members is the easiest way to determine if child care is a service they would like to see offered. Survey questions should include:

  • Would you use child care if it was offered?
  • What child care services are most important to you?
  • How many days a week would use it?
  • What days and times would you use it?
  • What are the ages of your children?
  • Would you prefer to pay a monthly flat rate or per visit rate?
  • What price range would you pay for child care? (list price ranges you are considering)

 

Risk Management of Child care

Risk management is simply anticipating situations that can lead to injury for members and taking steps to reduce the chance of those situations actually occurring. Implementing risk management is important as it reduces liability and expenses related to injury or harm.

 

Child care can be an outsized liability if it’s not set up and managed correctly. Follow or exceed state regulations and be sure to consult with your insurance company every step of the way. Train all staff members on procedures and protocols with the child care program. Review your policies and procedures frequently.

 

You’ll want to clearly outline your child care program. Define what you are able to offer and how you will manage different aged children. Outline to parents all policies that you put in place for how children will be cared for at your gym.

 

ROI

As a new business offering, it’s important to weigh the investment, risk, and possible returns of offering child care. Once you’ve set up your space and invested in initial expenses, you may find yourself with a program that only breaks even financially.

 

Though child care fees may not be a significant source of revenue, the offering can have significant impact on member satisfaction and retention, while also attracting new members.

 

US Census data indicates that about 40% of families have children under 18 living at home. Both dual income families and single parent families find it difficult to use fitness facilities without child care.

 

Despite the potential for a small ROI, it is increasingly common to see child care in climbing gyms because they can support your brand and strengthen your gym’s community in immeasurable ways.

 

PIAT (Putting It All Together)

Depending on available space, the percentage of members that would use child care and how much they are willing to pay for it; you can determine whether or not child care in your gym makes sense.

  • Know Your State’s Regulations
  • Ask Your Members What They Want
  • Clearly Outline Your Child Care Program
  • Balance the ROI of Revenue, Branding, and Member Retention

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer service  member acquisition  member retention  operations  risk management 

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Perspectives on Spotting

Posted By Climbing Wall Association, Monday, August 5, 2019
Spotting the Climber

Reprinted from Lines Newsletter, July 2013

 

Spotting is the subject of ongoing industry debate and the intent of this article is to present multiple perspectives in an effort to foster conversation and investigation into spotting practices at CWA member facilities.

 

As with any operational practice, facility managers should take specific facility circumstances into account. Flooring, wall design, fall zones, and other facility-specific items should be considered when determining the implementation of spotting and any other procedures. The goal of this article is not to influence the audience, but rather to provide resources for informed decision making.

 

In order to examine spotting in its proper context, we must first understand its purpose. When asked, our industry experts unanimously defined spotting as a means to protect a climber’s head and neck from impact with the ground/floor.

 

“... Spotting is for the purpose of protecting the head and neck area. In 25 years of operating climbing gyms I have never seen a head injury in a gym while bouldering. For the life of me I cannot figure out why you would need to spot anyone with 12 inches of foam as the landing surface. Spotting will never eliminate broken ankles and wrists. It is not designed for that.”

 

- Rich Johnston, Vertical World

 

Spotting practices are more prevalent in outdoor settings where uneven, smaller, and rocky landing surfaces exist. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss spotting only in the context of indoor climbing. Utilizing this definition and context, we can infer that spotting in an indoor bouldering environment is not primarily intended to prevent ankle and wrist injury (two of the most common indoor bouldering injuries).

 

“With the exception of specific circumstances, systematically spotting boulderers is not recommended in facilities properly equipped with new generation bouldering flooring systems that offer bouldering gymnastic falling technique orientation and instruction for the following reasons:

  1. Bouldering onlookers crowded in close proximity to a climberʼs landing zone may cause pinning resulting in deactivation of the flooring systemʼs ability to properly absorb the impact force of a falling climber.
  2. The presence of a spotter introduces the possibility of a collision with a hard foreign object, which is one of the leading causes of injuries in bouldering areas.
  3. Spotters who are not properly trained (similarly to gymnastics coaches & martial arts instructors) may potentially cause more harm than protection to a falling boulderer.”

- Futurist Climbing Bouldering Techniques (excerpted from The Art of Falling – bouldering orientation video)

 

Though its primary purpose is to mitigate head, neck, and spinal injury (which are less likely in an indoor setting), there are some instances where spotting may be appropriate for alternate purposes. Timy Fairfield of Futurist has provided several examples:

 

“It is advisable that specific circumstances requiring spotting should be considered before attempting every boulder problem to determine if having a spotter is preferable. Bouldering participants should identify potentially dangerous moves that could result in joint locking, over rotation or inversion in the event of a fall before spotting or attempting a boulder problem. Potentially dangerous moves that could result in joint locking, over- rotation and possible inversion of the climber in the event of a fall include:

  1. Horizontal Roof Climbing
  2. Overhead foot placements
  3. High heel hooks/heel hooks on in-cut holds
  4. Foot cams/toe cams between 2 holds”

 

Now understanding the primary purpose of spotting and some of the special cases, we must examine the depth and topics needed to create an effective spotting orientation.

 

“... In most climbing gyms, there is not a spotting program that goes far enough in teaching how to spot a climber adequately. There are only a few situations in a bouldering area, such as a steep cave that is low to the ground, where someone can safely spot someone. Once a climber is higher on wall, it’s safer for the spotter to stay out of the way, unless they are very skilled at spotting. It’s a lot more than just catching someone coming off the wall. It’s a matter of redirecting them to land on a safe part of the body.”

 

- Mike Palmer, Cascade Specialty

 

Possible topics covered in a spotting orientation may include, but are not limited to climber preference for a spotter, flooring type, fall zones, technique, awareness of the climber, awareness of difficult moves on the boulder problem, height of climber, and pitch of the route. Proper orientations should leave the climber with knowledge of why to spot, when to spot, and how to spot properly. If orientations do not achieve this, the opportunities for injury may be larger than if the orientation were omitted altogether.

 

Most gym managers will weigh the facility design, flooring, time/staff commitments, efficiency, customer perception, and implications when considering the implementation of a spotting orientation. While the omission of orientation can be permissible for spotting, it does not apply in top rope or lead climbing scenarios.

 

In our experience, the many considerations involved in spotting orientations implementation frequently result in their omission based on the risks versus the benefits. Even when spotting is used in the correct context, there are many effects to consider. Can the climber’s momentum injure the prospective spotter, adding to facility liability? Aaron Stevens from Climb Iowa weighs in:

 

“In an indoor climbing facility, I think it is FAR more important to talk about how to fall properly than how to spot. People don't really spot even when you take the time to tell them about it. Most bouldering accidents can be reduced from a falling demonstration rather than a spotting demonstration. In my opinion, by teaching and telling people about spotting you are increasing the likelihood that someone will get injured. By teaching proper falling techniques, you are decreasing that risk.”

 

Alternatives

If you choose not to introduce spotting to new climbers, then what should be implemented in its place, if anything? The near unanimous recommendation from our panel is to introduce proper falling technique. Mike Palmer of Cascade Specialty advocates for mandatory falling education for new climbers:

 

“On the practice of an orientation in the bouldering area, I think it should include falling instruction. This will also reduce injuries, and hopefully shield gyms from some liability. I also think spotting is very overrated. There are very few people qualified to spot properly. Letting a novice spot someone is dangerous to the climber and the spotter. The effort would be better spent on falling education. Why not require it like a belay test?”

 

Conclusion

Per our industry experts, the practice of spotting in indoor bouldering areas should be reserved for special cases in which spotting may be favored over climber ground falls. Given the brief nature of most facility orientations, it could be inferred that these special cases may not fall into the scope of mandatory orientations. This leads us to two possible methods of addressing this topic:

  1. Implement a robust spotting orientation that addresses all of the purposes, considerations, and special cases involved in spotting.
  2. Omit spotting orientations from facilities on the grounds that spotting may not be necessary except under special circumstances.

When implementing any new process, the CWA encourages gym owners to understand the purpose, commitments, and implications of such processes. If implementing a spotting program, facilities should ensure that the orientation meets its intended purpose: minimizing injury and facility liability.

 

If omitting spotting orientations, facilities could choose to include bouldering orientation language covering falling technique. This was the most popular recommendation from industry experts for the purposes of minimizing liability (not adding a second person to a potential fall situation) and addressing the most common types of indoor bouldering injuries (ankle and wrist).

 

Tags:  operations  risk management  staff training 

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How to Maximize Your Staff Training Budget

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Climbing Gym Staff Training

The relationship between effective training and employee performance is well-researched; a well-trained staff is more engaged in their job, delivers better customer service, represents your brand more professionally, and is more resistant to turnover – all good things. But finding the time and the budget to effectively train staff can be a challenge. Simply put, a training budget includes direct and indirect costs of the courses and materials needed maintain employee training or retraining. On average companies with 100-999 employees train their staff 61.2 hours per year. Training your staff gives your gym a competitive edge, so maximizing your ability to effectively train your staff is a crucial part of your business.

 

Create a Training Budget

Before you can begin to maximize your training budget, you’ll need to make sure you have a line item for training on your annual budget. If you only train out of necessity or when there’s surplus cash in the bank, you’re missing a serious competitive advantage. Expect to cover costs associated with training: delivery, materials, labor, travel, and ongoing trainings. Your training budget will depend on the size of your staff, and smaller businesses spend more on staff training than larger business, but the average training budget is more than $1200 per employee or 1-3% of your annual salary budget.

 

Include Training in Your Strategic Plan

Training is a necessity, as your gym staff is responsible for performing the majority of the work in the gym, so how they are trained should be aligned with branding and the overall mission of the gym. When you view training strategically, training plans are developed according to the needs of the business and are more efficient. A strategic training plan for staff is based on the strategic objectives of the gym and on the tasks at which your staff needs to be proficient. In short, you must ensure any trainings offered to staff are aligned with the goals of the gym and that they cover situations that your staff needs to be prepared for.

 

Develop Training Plans

Develop training plans for each job description in your gym and gather the training materials and resources for how you want the staff trained. Using your budget, determine where your training budget will be spent. Know which staff positions can be cross-trained and outline the timeline for each position. Discuss training in interviews and with new hires, and clearly outline your expectations. Create a dialogue with your staff to ensure that they are learning and retaining the training information. Employee commitment is a big part of maximizing your budget, so getting staff on board creates a positive cycle where trained staff are happier in their roles and there is less turnover in your gym.

 

Train Regularly and Frequently

Training in your gym can be formal or informal, however short, regular trainings keep staff educated, involved, and motivated while not hitting your labor costs the way large trainings do. Post the topics ahead of the training, ask staff to submit their questions for discussion so you’re prepared for the training, then follow up with an email synopsis of the training. E-trainings or one-on-one trainings can be built into schedules when group trainings can’t be held.

 

Cross-training and Mentoring

Cross training gives your staff new responsibilities and skills, while mentoring lets them teach and support each other through the process. Allow staff to work together and have them change duties regularly so they are continuously learning. For staff that excel at cross-training and mentoring, you can offer them a track as a trainer, adding training to their job description and adding a pay rate increase.

 

Vendor Presentations

Many vendors will happily come in to speak to staff about their products and services without charging a fee for the presentation. Before the training you can discuss with the vendor or sales rep how to make the training very specific to your gym and staff. For instance, to a climbing shoe rep you can say: “We want our staff to know about the performance of your climbing shoes, learn how to fit them properly, and review strategies to close a sale.” To a gear sales rep you can use the same approach, “We want you to discuss applicable uses for your climbing gear, instruct them on proper usage, and review safety protocols.” Gyms buy a high volume of holds, shoes, ropes, and gear – utilize your company reps to your advantage.

 

Reuse Training Materials

While there are some training materials you’ll want your staff to keep, create a library of training materials that can be reused. Books, publications, and DVD’s don’t take up much space but can become a handy resource for staff and can be used repeatedly.

 

Online Training

Online training typically has lower costs due to staff not having to travel and not needing additional materials. As staff can access the course remotely and at any time, online training can be built into schedules to evenly distribute extra labor.

 

Tie Training to Retention

When you have staff who are interested in training or certifications for skills such as routesetting, management & operations, or competition coaching, ask them to commit to working for you for a specified amount of time if you support those endeavors financially. Another option is to reimburse them over time for getting training or certifications on their own. While these training expenses might hit the bottom line in a bigger way than you want, by investing in your employees you increase employee retention and therefore avoid training expenses associated with high turnover.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Implementing a training program can be done in small manageable steps and will greatly benefit your gym by engaging staff and ensuring member satisfaction.

  • Include training in your strategic plan and budget.
  • Develop job-specific training materials.
  • Set expectations during interviews and include training as part of the work week.
  • Cross-train and develop mentorship.
  • Reuse training materials & use online learning tools to reduce costs.
  • Utilize company reps to your training advantage.
  • Tie training to retention.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  operations  staff retention  staff training 

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Member Spotlight: The Boulder Field

Posted By Climbing Wall Association, Tuesday, July 9, 2019
The Boulder Field

California has the most climbing facilities of any state in the US, but new gyms are still finding markets to serve. One prime example is The Boulder Field, a Sacramento gym that opened doors in the spring of 2018.

 

With 10,000 feet of bouldering terrain and walls up to 14 feet high, The Boulder Field aims to provide a holistic climbing and fitness club. The facility also includes a fitness area, a yoga studio, a locker room with showers and saunas, and a café serving local coffee and beer. The building, a 33,000 sq. ft. warehouse, uses an open layout to create social and work spaces off the bouldering mats.

 

California has a deep climbing heritage, and The Boulder Field is no exception — the founders are none other than Black Diamond athlete Carlo Traversi and his brother David Traversi. We reached out to Carlo to get his perspective on starting a business and opening a gym.

 

CWA: California is a state with a vibrant history and culture of climbing, and you bring a wealth of experience as a professional climber. How did this perspective inform your mission and approach with The Boulder Field?

 

CT: As a native Californian and a longtime member of the climbing community, my goal with The Boulder Field was to take all of the things I've learned from working in climbing gyms over the past 16 years and create an environment that better cultivates and serves the local community.

 

CWA: Were there any challenges you think are unique to the history of The Boulder Field?

 

CT: Nothing stands out as unique in terms of challenges. However, I'm not very familiar with the challenges of other operations. Our development process was fairly quick and smooth. The only real issues we dealt with were final permitting problems with the City of Sacramento, but those challenges weren't unique, and we were able to deal with them rather quickly.

 

CWA: The location and layout of The Boulder Field seem to be central features of the gym. What was your philosophy in creating an open-layout bouldering gym with elements like a cafe and work spaces?

 

CT: The open-layout idea hasn't really been executed in other facilities to the same degree that we have. Mostly we wanted to have plenty of space for people to congregate off the mats. The café and ample work spaces are obvious additions that serve this mentality.

 

CWA: The Boulder Field is currently based in Sacramento — are there plans to open up more locations, and if so, what have you learned from opening your first?

 

CT: We are always keeping an eye out for new locations to extend our reach, but we don't have any new developments on the radar at this time. We have learned a ton from opening our first facility and we are obviously still learning a lot to this day. The biggest thing that I've learned is how important it is to surround yourself with a solid, hardworking team. Nothing great is done alone.

 

CWA: What sets The Boulder Field apart from other California climbing institutions?

 

CT: Community, culture, and quality. We are consistently striving to be the best on a daily basis. Also, very few gyms have owners that are climbing in the gym as many hours per day as I do.

 

CWA: What does it mean to The Boulder Field to be a CWA member?

 

CT: Being a member of the CWA means playing a role in the system of support and the sharing of information that keeps the indoor climbing industry thriving.

 

CWA: What's the biggest challenge The Boulder Field is currently facing?

 

CT: Our biggest challenge, and it's one we welcome with open arms, is how do we continue to better serve our community and our members in the best possible way.

 

BECOME A MEMBER

 

Tags:  member spotlight 

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Reflect on it! Why Processing Training Will Improve Performance

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, July 8, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Climbing Practice Reflection

A phenomenon that we often see when working with climbing programs is a lack of time for reflection. Coaches and facilitators have limited time with their with young climbers, and practices are so jam packed with activity that by the end, there's no time to reflect on what each climber accomplished. Climbers will often trickle out as practice ends or go straight to being told by a coach how they performed and then closing out practice.

 

At Headwall Group, we have found that building reflection into a young person’s experiences is essential to their social and skill development. This is especially true in rock climbing.

 

Reflection is key for a few reasons:

  • Reflection allows climbers to make meaning out of their own journey through climbing, evaluate their own progress, and make plans for their own improvement. This level of autonomy increases buy-in.
  • Reflection allows young climbers to link together all their climbing experiences into one progressive experience, as opposed to isolated practices, competitions, or events.
  • Reflection allows young climbers to self-monitor. As a coach, you can only see so much. By building in reflection, young climbers begin to apply a critical eye to their own experience and by using thoughtful prompts, you can give climbers the tools to chart their own plan towards progress.

There are two types of reflection that will help enrich your climbing program: ongoing reflection and debriefing. Ongoing reflections are quick and easy ways to help young climbers think about what they are doing during the experience. Debriefing is a way to wrap up a practice or climbing activity that will prompt climbers to evaluate their progress and carry that into future experiences.

 

Ongoing Reflection

Ongoing reflection is easy to build into your practice. After a few sessions where it is consciously planned, the process will become natural to climbers and become part of their expectation for each practice or experience. Here are a couple creative and quick examples of ongoing reflection during a practice.

 

Coach Check-ins:

A very easy way to build reflection into practice is to formalize coach check-ins. Require that climbers come to you after each route, boulder problem, set of reps on the campus board, etc. and answer a very quick prompt. An easy example is: What was one thing you were doing well? What needed the most improvement? What is one technique we’ve covered that would help you improve on that?

 

Pick A Card:

Another quick check-in uses playing cards, an easy prop that a coach can keep with them. As you are moving around monitoring your climbers’ progress, find the time for each climber to choose one card out of a deck of cards. That card will indicate what they need to respond to you with. A Heart card is something they are succeeding at. A Diamond is something valuable they have learned from this practice. A Spade is something they are digging deep to improve upon. A Club is a frustration or area they are struggling with. The number gives an indication of how much the coach will follow up on the answer - a general guideline is the number of follow up questions you will ask to the climber, after they identify their answer. For example, a three of clubs means the climber will identify an area they feel frustrated with and the coach will follow up with 3 more leading questions to help the climber reflect on that one-on-one.

 

Debriefing

While ongoing check-ins allow climbers to think about their experience relatively quickly and in the moment, the goal of debriefing activities is to create space for climbers to come together and process their experience as a group retrospectively. You don’t have to sacrifice climbing time to do this if you get creative. Here is an example of a great debriefing activity that uses climbing.

 

Activity Name: HORSE in the Mirror
Category: Reflection
Objective: In this version of the popular game HORSE, climbers try to recreate difficult moves. In a twist, climbers will be answering questions related to the practice.
Equipment Needed: Traverse Wall

 

Rules:

  1. Coach will introduce the game by naming the activity to support the theme of practice. For example, POWER - if the team was largely training power moves or FOCUS - if the team was working on mental training.
  2. Climbers will line up at the designated Start Hold.
  3. When the coach says “GO!” the first climber will begin by making a challenging move.
  4. When the first climber completes that move, the second climber immediately attempts to recreate it. If they fail, they receive a letter: in our example a P would be the first letter.
  5. If a climber receives a letter the coach will ask them a directed question related to the theme of practice. Ex. In our practice, was there a time when you lost focus? What helped you regain it?
  6. If a climber makes the move, they get to make up a new move of their own.
  7. The game may be modified to allow a climber who falls more than once to choose another climber to answer questions.

How to Instruct: Most climbers will be familiar with Horse and will understand the basics of this game. Make sure to emphasize control and pre-teach that this is a reflection activity. Emphasize that they should still be focusing on using proper technique while making challenging moves, and make sure all climbers are listening to responses.

 

Considerations:

  1. Safety is paramount. Pre-teach safety precautions before starting.
  2. Come up with a themed name before you start to ensure it’s topical.
  3. Prior to starting practice, be sure to have a list of questions that you want to ask to ensure they will support your goals.

 


Headwall Group at CWA Meetings

Want more tips, tricks, and strategies to implement in your youth climbing program? Don't miss the Headwall Group at the upcoming CWA Meetings!

 

LEARN MORE

 

Bix Firer and Pat Brehm Head ShotAbout the Headwall Group

The Headwall Group distills the lessons learned as educators and leaders working in dynamic and high risk environments and brings them to youth-serving organizations. The Headwall group provides trainings, consultation, and curriculum development services that are rooted in our experience as outdoor experiential educators for climbing gyms, summer camps, and schools.

 

The Headwall Group was founded by Bix Firer and Pat Brehm. Bix Firer (MA, University of Chicago) is currently the Director of Outdoor Programs at College of Idaho and has worked as a wilderness educator, trainer, facilitator, and experiential educator for over a decade. Pat Brehm works as a professional organizational trainer and has spent his career as a climbing coach, facilitator, and outdoor educator.

 

Tags:  coaching  programming  youth team  youth training 

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Shifting the Indoor Climbing Industry from Dirtbag to Professional

Posted By Nicole Brandt, Monday, June 24, 2019
Dirtbag to Professional

Climbers fall into a unique lifestyle sport category where the identity is connected to the need to climb, often. Urban Dictionary defines dirtbag as “a person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle; dirtbags seek to spend all of their moments pursuing climbing.”

 

The most famous dirtbags, the Stonemasters, have been captured in the movie Valley Uprising. One of the most famous examples of the shift from dirtbag to professional is Yvon Chouinard, who started Patagonia. Patagonia split to become Black Diamond and Patagonia, two pinnacle examples of mature professional organizations in the climbing industry. Patagonia has gone on to become #100 on the fortune 100 list.

 

A “dirtbag” entrepreneurial company is one that’s in the process of learning what problems the industry needs to solve, while an established professional company is consistently executing the business of solving that problem and building a foundation into the future. In the past, many climbing gym startups were providing a solution to outdoor climbers who needed an indoor space to train when time or weather did not allow them to go outside, yet had not thought far enough into the future to consider the needs of its future clientele. The industry and clientele have shifted vastly, and it’s up to each company to learn and adapt to those changes.

 

Original gym customer:

  • Lower expectations about facility cleanliness and aesthetics
  • Outdoor climbers first and foremost
  • Concerned about training tools and climbing-specific apparatus
  • Enthusiastic about the genesis and novelty of indoor climbing gyms

 

Today, those original training facilities have developed into an entire industry. Indoor climbing gyms have evolved along with their customers, and their current challenges involve operational efficiency, business profitability, accessibility to all levels of climbers, programming, crowd control, community, and facility/space optimization.

 

Today’s climbing gym customer:

  • Varies by region and demographics
  • Learning to climb inside the gym’s four walls
  • Most have never been climbing outside and might never go outside
  • Expectations of facility cleanliness and aesthetics are high
  • Customer service and process expectations are set from other experiential-based activities such as fitness gyms, gymnastic facilities, martial arts, crossfit, and yoga studios

 

Once a gym gains traction, startups must transition into more established professional companies. They must move into a more formal organization that adopts new functions and a strategic approach such as project management methodologies (and project managers), policies such as employee handbooks and gym rules, organizational charts with job descriptions and clear wages, new functions such as targeted programming, customer service priorities and a more structured approach to budgeting and financial management. For the company to be defined as professional, it must expertly understand and consistently produce products and services.

 

Wondering where your company falls? Here are four areas to check in with your level of professionalism: culture, process, branding, and practice.

 

Four Areas to Evaluate Your Company’s Level of Professionalism

1. Culture

  • Clearly state your mission or problem you are trying to solve. Identify your company’s “Why” and communicate it both internally and externally. This minimizes confusion and attracts customers/employees that have similar expectations and goals to what you are trying to accomplish.
  • People first. Humor and fun need to be a part of every day. Adapt your communication style based on the individual or situation.
  • Be accessible in person. Serve your employees, they are your customer. At least once a week, recognize and praise those that work hard. In turn, your employees are able to learn customer service and embody it to customers.
  • Create a culture where people trust one another. Do what you say you are going to do.

 

2. Process

  • Create formal and transparent organizational structure (who is responsible for what, with clear job descriptions) and employee management structure.
  • Empower employees to get work done through onboarding, training, defined development processes, and performance feedback.
  • Make sure customers understand what to do when they come in, what the gym offers/costs, and how to progress in their personal pursuits.
  • Make a strategic plan where you calendar your year and plan top priorities. Communicate these to all staff. This becomes even more important if you have multiple locations.
  • Timely responses to emails and phone calls is a professional given in this area.

 

3. Branding

  • Create a recognizable brand story that includes logo, recognizable colors, shapes, and program sub brands. Have this useable for employees creating outward facing content in print, social, web, and outside marketing to give them clear direction and support. Consistency helps avoid customer confusion.
  • Dress to impress when at work with your brand clearly represented. Customers and newcomers make first impressions based on staff appearance and a dress code ensures everyone has a consistent appearance. Other advantages include promoting a team atmosphere and quick identification when guests need help.
  • Maintain media outlets with consistent content, especially staying on top of channels customers are interacting with. People watch how your company engages with customers online; your communications share what the company cares about in real time and allow for customers to be directly involved with the conversation.

 

4. Practice/Continually Learning

  • Determine the minimum level of entry skills in order to create consistency with onboarding new staff. Give ongoing training support to employees, encouraging them to be at the top of their game.
  • Be sharp with your skills, know how the industry is trending, what’s happening outside your gym, new technology, and be open to learning. If you think you know it all, I question how much you know.
  • Provide mentorship and professional development opportunities for staff—often in the form of formal training programs, workshops, and conferences.

 

Rome wasn't built in a day, and Patagonia started in a garage. Becoming a more professionalized organization takes time, but getting clear on the points above will begin to morph entrepreneurial startups into more mature and formalized organizations.

 

Nicole Brandt Head ShotAbout the Author

Nicole Brandt runs Cypress Roots Consulting, a consulting company for climbing gyms helping them deep-dive into their company organization, programming, and culture. Nicole earned her degree in Outdoor Recreation with an emphasis in Tourism and has worked as the Program Director of Momentum and as a facilitator and guide across the Southeast and West. Currently based out of Salt Lake City, she spends her free time learning about yoga and herbalism.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  leadership  management  staff training 

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Chalk Dust: Mitigation & Source Control

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, June 10, 2019
Youth Climbing Team Athlete

Dealing with chalk dust is something that climbing gyms are entirely too familiar with; everywhere there are climbers, there’s chalk. Most gyms implement chalk mitigation strategies, whether it’s a never-ending cleaning and vacuuming circuit, installing a chalk eater, or a state of the art HVAC system.

 

The father of modern bouldering, John Gill, who had a background in gymnastics, is credited with introducing chalk to climbers at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in 1954. While its effectiveness at increasing friction was immediately apparent, climbing purists objected to chalk and considered it an ethical dilemma. Not only was the use of chalk to improve grip and keep hands dry considered to be a questionable ethical advantage, it, additionally, builds up on holds and permanently discolors the rock.

 

While today the use of chalk is considered par for the course, in climbing gyms, chalk presents issues as it gets onto practically every available surface and the airborne particles affect air quality. The standard acceptance of chalk use places gym owners and managers in constant reactive mode, which means that in order to implement a successful mitigation strategy, the gym has to stop being reactive and become proactive. This is easier said than done.

 

What is Chalk?

The main ingredient in chalk is magnesium carbonate, also known as MgCO3· nH2O, it’s an odorless, dry fine or bulky powder. In addition to being used for climbing and other sports, magnesium carbonate is widely used as an antacid, an anti-caking agent in food and in personal care products. Pub Chem notes that magnesium carbonate is listed as a safer chemical by the EPA. It is known as a green circle chemical and has, “…been verified to be of low concern based on experimental and modeled data.” Pub Chem also notes that it has been reported to cause eye and skin irritation, with exposure routes topically on the skin or eyes and through inhalation, with recommendations to wash or rinse the skin or eyes with fresh water, or to breathe fresh air. As an inhalation it is noted that a “nuisance-causing concentration of airborne particles can be reached quickly when dispersed.” Which gym owners and staff know, as the air in gyms can appear hazy at peak times. Which leads to many questions about how chalk dust affects indoor air quality.

 

Indoor Air Quality

With HVAC systems running into the tens of thousands and chalk eaters cost nearly $2000 to clean 5000 square feet of gym space, understanding the basic of chalk particles and air quality is necessary to making good decisions on how to mitigate chalk in your gym. Airborne particles of chalk are known as particulate matter (PM). Understanding how air borne chalk particles affect air quality means understanding some basics of indoor air quality (IAQ). The EPA defines indoor air quality as, “the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.”

 

The primary causes of poor indoor air quality are:

  • Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles, such as VOC’s.
  • Outdoor chemical contaminants: Vehicle or building exhaust, plumbing vents
  • Biological contaminants: Bacteria, molds, pollen, insects, bird droppings and viruses.
  • Physical contaminants: Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture of solid and/or liquid particles suspended in the air (which can include soil, dust, metals, organic chemicals, sulfates and nitrates).
  • Inadequate ventilation: Indoor pollutant levels can be increased by not bringing in enough outdoor air and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the building.
  • High temperature and humidity levels: High temperature and humidity are related to increased concentrations of some pollutants.

 

Size Matters

Visible dust on the floor, or surfaces of the gym is unsightly and messy, but unless it’s disturbed it’s not creating problems for air quality. Gym members can and will complain about chalk covered surfaces and greasy holds that have a build-up of chalk, sweat and skin oil. When you see chalk dust on the floor or on a surface it’s very fine, like talc, what you are seeing is a bunch of sub-micron particles lumped together to make a larger particle. It’s the smaller particles of chalk, the ones you don’t see or recognize that affect air quality.

 

The EPA is concerned about particles 10 micron or smaller because these particles are inhalable. These particles once inhaled can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects. But it’s important to note that the EPA concerns are based on outdoor PM levels, which are well studied and documented. Outdoor PM effects on human health are well-established and are used to set health-based standards for outdoor air. However, less is known about the specific impacts of indoor PM on health. PM is found in all indoor environments.

 

Due to poor ventilation and other contributing factors, indoor PM levels have the potential to exceed outdoor PM levels, indoor levels can be gauged by MERV rating. MERV means Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value this rating was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioner Engineers - ASHRAE. MERV values run on a scale from 1 to 16 and gauge the effectiveness of the HVAC system in a building or indoor space. For instance, if your HVAC system has a high MERV rating, it is more efficient, meaning that the filter will trap more airborne particles. But filters alone don’t make for effective air cleaners: you have to figure in air flow through the HVAC system and how clean the air filters are. A dirty or clogged air filter or using a filter that is too restrictive may result in low air flow and could cause the system to malfunction.

 

90% of chalk dust is estimated to be 5 microns or less, it’s very very small. A "micron" is a unit of measurement and is an abbreviation of the term "micrometer". One micron is a millionth of a meter (1/1,000,000 meters) or about .00004 inches. Steve Smith with Camfil USA, a company that develops and produces air filters and clean air solutions, has extensively studied, how chalk particles fall. On average Smith says, in a controlled environment it takes 5.7 seconds for a 6 micron and bigger chalk particle to fall 10 feet. But, Smith says, chalk particles 5 microns and smaller are so small that gravity doesn’t have an immediate effect on them and it can take up to 33 days for them to fall down out of the air, but in areas that have air flow, the particles are constantly being moved and lifted. Chalk particles of 1 micron or less become permanent dust as gravity has no effect on particles of that nano size.

 

The physics of air flow creates a challenge when it comes to getting chalk dust out of the air. It’s difficult to generate a sucking air flow that is strong enough to pull the particles out of the air, so particles are removed by blowing particles through the air from one air cleaner to the next to collect all the sub atomic particles.

 

There are three basic strategies to improve indoor air quality:

  • Source Control: Usually the most effective way to improve indoor air quality is to eliminate individual sources of PM or pollution or to reduce their emissions.
  • Ventilation Improvements: Ventilation also helps remove or dilute indoor airborne pollutants coming from indoor sources. This reduces the level of contaminants and improves indoor air quality (IAQ).
  • Air Cleaners: An effective air cleaner is an efficient collector of PM and has high air-circulation rate.

 

When athletes and climbers are engaged in physical activity, they have an increase in respiratory minute ventilation which has a proportional effect on increasing the quantity of PM that is inhaled. Additionally, an increase in airflow velocity can deliver PM deeper into the respiratory tract. It is known that PM of 5 microns and smaller can enter the lungs and bloodstream where they can build up and cause health problems.

 

What is known about people who are exposed to poor IAQ is that they can experience health effects at the time of exposure or even years after breathing it. Symptoms can include: eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, skin irritation, headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

 

Are There Effects of Breathing Chalk Particles?

There is no known research on the effects of humans breathing in chalk dust. Dr. Cheryl Pirozzi, a Pulmonary Physician with the University Of Utah Hospitals And Clinics and a climber herself, does research on the effects of outdoor pollution. The effects of breathing in climbing chalk is a topic that she has spent quite a lot of time thinking about. Dr. Pirozzi notes that to her knowledge there is no published data on the specific health effects of humans breathing in magnesium carbonate and that it isn’t known what the PM 10 or PM 2.5 concentrations in indoor climbing gyms are, “these are two big research questions that we need information on,” says Dr. Pirozzi.

 

Higher occupancy rates and the type of activity developing in the gym effects indoor air quality as athletes and climbers increase CO2, while high occupancy also influences PM concentrations. Dr. Pirozzi says that, “concentrations of PM 2.5 and PM 10 are going to vary quite a bit due to building characteristics, the filter, MERV rating, climbing traffic and time of day.” Generally speaking, Dr. Pirozzi can talk about the health effects of particulate pollution, but she thinks it is unknown how much particulate pollution climbers are exposed to in gyms.

 

A 2008 study and a 2012 study on chalk dust concentrations and reduction strategies both measured very high levels of particulate matter during busy hours. Dr. Pirozzi says, “This shows that climbing gyms may have very elevated levels of particulate matter, but there are likely many factors that would influence those levels. It would be interesting to evaluate with the newer filter systems.”

 

OSHA has standards of permissible exposure limits for magnesium carbonate that consider both the concentrations of magnesium carbonate in the air and length of exposure, however without specific data from gyms, there is no way to determine the air quality and how much , if any, magnesium carbonate indoor climbers are exposed to. The question Dr. Pirozzi wants to know the answer to is; are there different health effects from exposure to magnesium carbonate compared with other PM? The answer to this question, she acknowledges lies in study and research.

 

Source Control

The simplest approach is to implement reduction strategies, to reduce the amount of chalk dust in the gym and you’ll reduce the amount of dust in the air and on surfaces. Considering the ritual most climbers have regarding around the way they chalk up before a climb, or can obsessively chalk up while on a route, it’s not realistic to ban chalk. But there are strategies between all or nothing that can be implemented.

 

Specify the Type of Chalk and the Delivery Method Members Use

Many gyms ask members to not use loose chalk, asking members to use chalk balls or liquid chalk instead. A 2012 study on the air borne concentrations of multiple types of chalk using chalk balls, pressed chalk and powdered chalk. The study determined that with the exception of liquid chalk; chalk balls, pressed and powdered chalk leads to airborne chalk particles, the concentration of which is determined by traffic in the gym. While chalk in a chalk ball does not lead to a significant reduction in airborne particles compared to regular block chalk, it is worth noting that the chalk ball does prevent spills. But the study is clear in stating that chalk balls did not lead to a reduction of airborne particles. In comparison ethanol based (liquid chalk) led to the same low mass concentrations of airborne chalk particle as banning chalk entirely.

 

Educate New and Existing Members on How to Chalk Up

In general climbers use too much chalk, says Kevin Brown of FrictionLabs. A climber for over 20 years, Brown says it all too common for climbers to use too much chalk and cake it on their hands and fingers. Too much chalk he explains actually acts like a dry lubricant, and he notes that generic chalk contributes to the problem, as climbers tend to use more of it and it gets spilled. FrictionLabs recommends that climbers use less chalk and employ a layering strategy: apply a base layer of liquid chalk then reapply small amounts of loose chalk as needed, the liquid chalk base will reduce the total amount of chalk the climber uses in a session. Brown states, “just like there is a belay test and safety talks about the skills that climbers need, climbers need to know about chalk. Chalk creates a huge mess in the gym and no one really talks about how you should use chalk.” When you put chalk on your hands initially, Brown says, instead of reaching down into your chalk bag repeatedly for more chalk, you can move it from one hand to the other, distributing it from your palms to your fingertips. Layering with liquid chalk works by filling in all the nooks and crannies, and creates a good base layer climbers will need less additional chalk as they climb. Climbers don’t need a completely chalky hand to have a good grip, Brown notes that there’s a real opportunity for climbers to use chalk smarter.

 

Putting It All Together

Installing HVAC systems, chalk eaters, or implementing cleaning protocols impacts your bottom line either in major capital expenses or ongoing increased labor, this is considered a reactive approach, cleaning up after the fact. It’s nearly unimaginable that gyms could or would ever ban all types of powdered chalk, but implementing education about how to apply and use chalk is definitely a step in the right direction.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  chalk dust  customer experience  operations  OSHA  risk management 

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Indoor Climbing Programs for Boomers, Part II - Tips for Boomer Instruction

Posted By Tom Weaver, Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Get Started with Boomer Programming

Part I of this series explained the business case for adding programming for Boomers to your climbing gym, and once you’ve decided to take that step, how to market and message that program. Now, it’s time to think through the considerations unique to working with this age group.

 

Boomer Instruction Overview

I start each class in Climb Iowa’s auto-belay and traverse wall area with a warm-up consisting of stretching and traversing. Stretching is very important, as well as some easy shoulder, forearm, and leg warm-ups. During this time, I talk about hold orientation and some basic climbing techniques.

 

Then I move on to a climbing-specific warm-up of traversing. I start by emphasizing center-of-gravity awareness, the importance of footwork (moving their base), and the fact that climbing isn’t about doing pull-ups. I spot Boomers with care, especially during their first class. Sometimes I’ll place one or both hands lightly on their backs as they traverse after first asking their permission. We discuss (and I demonstrate) how to fall if they come off the traverse wall or stumble on a padded floor mat.

 

Questions are encouraged at all times. After warming up and traversing, we then move to Climb Iowa’s easiest 5.5 top-rope climb on a slab. I explain why I’m wearing belay gloves, what belaying entails, and why I always use an assisted-braking belay device. I explain why the retrace figure-8 knot is used. We look up at the route’s anchor to ensure we’re tying into the correct rope for the route we’re planning to climb, and what could happen if we didn’t do that (a big swing).

 

I explain that we’re going to practice coming down from just a few feet up before they climb farther up the route. We introduce climber/belayer communications and risk management partner checks. This is all pretty standard stuff in your facility, I’m sure.

 

I pay close attention to energy levels in the Boomer class to ensure everyone has fun while learning, and that soreness following the first day’s class is minimized. If this means that a student climbs only one 5.5 slab route during the first two-hour class, that’s fine. Having fun and learning climbing movements and techniques while not pushing anyone too fast or too far past their comfort level is important with this age group.

 

A Summary of What Boomers are Taught: (Risk management best practices are emphasized at nearly every step)

  1. We recommend top-rope climbing only for Boomers, although some graduate to boulder & lead
  2. Having fun during each class, and to climb with fellow students between each week’s class
  3. Climb Iowa’s Belay Certification class is included at no additional cost
  4. Importance of Climber/Belayer communications (On Belay?/Belay On, Climbing/Climb On)
  5. Risk Management partner checks – every time on every climb (Explain what could go wrong)
  6. We practice traversing at the beginning of each class as a warm-up and to gain movement skills
  7. Footwork is emphasized (quiet feet, precise placement; a glue-feet climbing game)
  8. Straight Arm climbing (a Franken-Arm climbing game)
  9. Reminders to remember to breathe!
  10. Climb relaxed, conserve power with grace; use momentum to your advantage - make it look easy
  11. Opportunistic resting, watch feet onto footholds before looking away
  12. Hold types and directionality, Matching, Flagging, Weight-shifting, Balance and Foot-switching
  13. Mantling and Stemming Day is a big hit and proves that climbing isn’t all about pull-ups!
  14. The puzzle-solving, cognitive part of climbing: Route Reading, Rainbow Routes and Projecting

An interesting statistic: Women in the Boomer Climbers Movement Class have outnumbered men nearly two-to-one since the beginning of Climb Iowa’s Boomer initiative. At the time of this writing, one week before the first Friday in April, the sign-up sheet is showing that it will be another all-female Boomer class.

 

Teaching the Importance of Risk Management Partner Checks

At the beginning of the third week’s class I surreptitiously undo one of my double-backed harness buckles and leave it routed through the buckle but not double-backed. I then keep refusing to belay the first climber until one of the students’ notices what’s wrong, or until they give up. I usually get to claim a successful ‘Aha – gotcha!’ and proceed to show them the problem. Only three or four students in nearly four years have discovered the problem, and at least one of those was warned by a former student.

 

This tactic has proven to be memorable to our students and emphasizes that you don’t just casually glance at a climber’s or belayer’s harness as you conduct those critical risk management partner checks (every time on every climb). We must look directly at harness buckles to know for sure they are double-backed and secure. Based on feedback, students have enjoyed and appreciated this lesson in particular.

 

Understanding and anticipating what can go wrong and conducting thorough and specific risk management partner checks every time on every climb is mandatory in the Boomer Climbers Movement Class and throughout Climb Iowa.

 

Auto-Belays vs. Boomers

Kids love auto-belays, but most Boomers new to climbing are just the opposite. Older Boomers are especially leery of auto-belays and find them very scary. Making Boomers go up an auto-belay route and let go as their very first rock climbing experience is a tough introduction. My experience has taught me the older the Boomer, the scarier auto-belays are.

 

Boomers do better when introduced to auto-belays toward the end of the first day’s class. They have made their first climbs and descents on top-rope routes with a gentle belay. This gives them a better feel for standing away from the wall and coming down with their feet wide apart during descents. They get a feel for what it’s like to be suspended from a rope by their harness. We then explain auto-belay descents are the same but a bit faster coming down, and that it’s not necessary to ‘stick’ the landing on their feet. We also caution them about getting a foot hung up on a hold as the auto-belay is lowering them.

 

A Fun Graduation Ceremony

At the end of the final Boomer Climbers Movement Class, I hand out a graduation certificate we’ve created and laminated. This single-page certificate is two-sided and covers the climbing skills learned during the class and the reasons why indoor climbing is a great path to lifetime fitness and health.

 

I point out their remarkable progress since their first climb and congratulate each student on the courage they’ve shown and on the climbing skills they’ve acquired during their month-long indoor climbing adventure. All agree that they have come a long way, and most are delighted with their achievements.

 

Most Boomer students go on to purchase annual memberships and continue to climb with a new circle of interesting friends. All seem to enjoy the under-appreciated inter-generational aspects of indoor climbing.

 

The Best Health and Wellness Activity for Retirement Years

At first glance, climbing appears to be a highly unlikely activity for Boomers. The fear of falling and injury is common, however once the remarkable benefits of indoor climbing are explained, a significant number of Boomers begin to realize that indoor climbing’s fall prevention system, emphasis on center-of-gravity awareness, strength and agility improvements, intense balancing practice, and attention to precise movement and footwork actually make it an ideal fitness activity for many Boomers.

 

In addition to the programs being run through indoor climbing facilities, we are now seeing small businesses being created to engage with this audience, like Stay.stoked Adventures. This business will be the first (that I know of) to offer Introduction to Rock Climbing schools for the 50+ demographic, located in Squamish, British Columbia. There is so much potential for the future of rock climbing that involves the Baby Boomer generation.

 

I use my experience as further proof that indoor climbing can be a great path to lifetime fitness and health for Boomers. Simply put, I’m a greatly improved new version of myself since discovering indoor climbing. I have fun, I meet new friends, it keeps me fit, and it’s the greatest reason to keep my weight under control I’ve ever found. Climbing is fun and, even better, is a perfect way to focus on health and wellness! I can’t imagine an exercise activity better suited for retirement years than indoor rock climbing.

 

Tom Weaver Head ShotAbout the Author

Tom (age 72) started climbing ten years ago following a dare to his granddaughters as they walked into an REI store. Fifty-five pounds lighter now, indoor top-rope rock climbing transformed his life. Tom is the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa and loves helping students from 50 to 75 years old improve their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility while learning to climb with skill and grace. “Aging successfully is a major priority for us. What other activity is exhilarating, never gets old, is social, inter-generational, low impact, cognitive, as well as physical, and features a world-class fall prevention system?”

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member acquisition  programming  risk management 

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