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Self-Care for Routesetters (and Anyone Experiencing Burnout)

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Thursday, January 2, 2020
Routesetters Need Self Care Too

Routesetters can work in many different scenarios – part or full time in a gym, setting for comps, freelancing for private clients, they can travel or stay in the same location or a combination of all those scenarios. The dynamic nature of the work can have routesetters juggling a lot – changing schedules, administrative duties, meetings, sorting out crew problems, and looking for work in addition to the physical labor of putting up new routes and stripping old ones.

 

Balancing the unique physical, creative, and administrative workload of routesetting creates prime conditions for burnout, which is on the rise generally. For more in-depth information on burnout culture, check out our previous post, Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms.

 

According to the The World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is chronic workplace stress and has been attributed to ‘Workism’ by Psychology Today. Workism is the belief that “work is not only necessary to economic production but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.”

 

In other words, when work takes priority over other aspects of life such as family, friendships, health, and fitness, not only do those aspects of life suffer, so does your work, creativity, and productivity. It can be a self-defeating and unending cycle.

 

Why Addressing Burnout Is Important

What happens when you experience fatigue and burnout? When you are fatigued, it is harder to perform your job and can increase your risk of injury. When you experience burnout, any creativity and enjoyment you experience in your work can be elusive. Fatigue and burnout also affect all aspects of your life, not just your work.

 

Often it takes a wake-up call either in the form of injury or an event in our personal lives to make us realize the toll that a demanding schedule and intense physical labor can take on our bodies and lives, but you don’t have to wait until everything falls apart. You can implement self-care strategies easily into your everyday life and work schedule.

 

How do you know when you are burnt out? You might experience lethargy and lack of motivation or interest in your work. Making time to accomplish your job responsibilities can seem impossible.

 

While there will be times when work takes over, burnout is a chronic experience, meaning that it's ongoing and can worsen over time. You don’t have to guess if you are experiencing burnout, you can assess yourself.

 

What Is Self-Care?

The antidote to burnout is self-care. Self-care is often misused to justify indulging in pleasure activities and might make you cringe at the thought of trying it.

 

However, make no mistake, self-care is not indulgence or engaging in frivolous activities. It is essential for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Self-care is a set of skills that reduce anxiety and stress and promote relaxation.

 

Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it is a simple concept in theory, it can be hard to implement, especially if you already feel overwhelmed and stressed.

 

But good self-care is key to overall well-being and professional fulfillment. Thinking of self-care as skills that you can learn provides a pathway to being able to more effectively cope with or even reverse the symptoms of burnout.

 

Essential Self-Care Skills

1. Time Management

 

Time management establishes boundaries between your work and personal life, while also improving how you spend your time at work. Time management can be as simple as implementing a calendar for your shift and how you will use your time in the gym, or you can schedule work, personal life, sleep, and other activities.

 

The hardest part of time management is adhering to the schedule that you create. Effective time management doesn’t schedule every minute of the day with activity, you will need to learn to block time that you can use to recharge.

 

Make sure you set realistic and attainable goals, and be willing to review and adjust how you are using your time to get the results you want.

 

2. Exercise

 

The physical work of routesetting can leave you exhausted when you experience burnout, but making time for exercise is essential to combatting the effects of burnout. Exercise reduces stress and improves sleep.

 

Exercising when you feel burnt out doesn’t have to be intense – in fact it shouldn’t be. Start with 30 minutes and build up. Try going for a walk outside or restorative yoga. Pay attention to how your body feels and do forms of exercise that lessen stress.

 

3. Sleep

 

The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep as, “an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.” During times of stress, it can be notoriously hard to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, however adopting sleep solutions can help set you up for sweet dreams instead of restless nights.

 

Sleep solutions teach you how to create a supportive sleep environment. For example, consider creating a sleep schedule, using soft light to prepare your body for sleep, and establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual.

 

4. Nutrition

 

When your body is experiencing stress, nutrition can support your physical health. Harvard Health promotes eating a whole food, plant-based diet and recommends staying away from processed carbohydrates that are inflammatory, sugar-spiking, and insulin releasing.

 

Instead, they advocate to “aim for things that grow on plants or trees. The more colorful the fruits or vegetables, the more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they have and the healthier they are. Vitamin pills and other supplements just don’t work as well. We don’t have to be perfect, but the more plant-based our diets are, the better.”

 

Self-care looks and feels different for everyone; develop your self-awareness as you apply these skills to your life and learn what works for you.

 

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:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention 

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Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Burnout Culture in Climbing Gyms

Burnout as defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) is a syndrome that occurs as the result of chronic workplace stress. Burnout isn’t a temporary experience – in fact, it has become a societal epidemic that can have negative impacts on your business.

 

With 1 in 5 employees reporting they experience burnout, your gym might already be experiencing the effects of burnout. We’re going to look at what burnout is and what you can do if your staff experiences it.

 

Burnout: What Does it Look Like?

When you’re concerned your staff is underperforming and lacks motivation, it’s important to determine their stage of burnout in order to implement a strategy to reduce the negative impact on your business.

 

Burnout has been added to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases and has three characteristics, as defined by the WHO:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job;
  3. and reduced professional efficacy.

While staff can experience different symptoms, there are five common stages of burnout:

  1. Honeymoon: The experience of commitment, energy, and creativity.
  2. Onset of Stress: The occasional experience of tough and challenging days here and there.
  3. Chronic Stress: The consistent experience of every day being tough and challenging, depleted energy, anxiety, and lack of focus.
  4. Burnout: The occasional experience of lack of motivation & creativity, low energy, pessimistic outlook, irritability, self-doubt, and isolation.
  5. Habitual Burnout: Consistent and chronic mental and physical fatigue, depression, neglect of personal needs, and loss of motivation and creativity.

The Causes of Burnout Culture

According to Harvard Business Review, a workplace that doesn’t promote a healthy work/life balance is at the highest risk of experiencing burnout culture. While individuals experience the consequences of burnout, the underlying cause of burnout is due to the organization’s overall workplace culture and being trapped in the busyness paradox.

 

The busyness paradox conflates the state of being busy (for example, getting sidetracked with low value tasks or running around putting out fires all day) with producing high quality work based on intentional strategic purpose.

 

Given that busyness is often looked at as a badge of honor, what steps can you take to shift how your organization approaches productivity and ultimately improve your workplace culture?

 

Managing Burnout in the Gym

Research shows that known costs of turnover can be as much as 33% of an employee’s annual salary, in addition to hidden costs such as reduced productivity, dissatisfied gym members, lowered staff morale, and compromised workplace safety. Managing staff burnout not only reduces negative impacts on the bottom line, but also supports a dynamic and positive gym culture.

 

The good news is that burnout is preventable when you focus on the key elements that you can control in your gym:

  • Labor
  • Performance
  • Morale

Labor, performance, and morale are measurable metrics that need to be tracked from an employee’s start date and throughout their employment. Effective and consistent HR management can reduce and eliminate burnout. It is not enough to guess if your staff is struggling, you need data that includes:

  1. How many hours they are working: Easily tracked through payroll and corrected through effective scheduling.
  2. What their performance is: Determined through reviews and underperforming staff can improve through training and mentoring.
  3. The state of their morale: Established through an employee survey that addresses how the staff feels about working, the working conditions at your gym, and what the staff wants to see improved.

It is important to know which factor(s) are contributing to burnout. For instance, a staff member not working excessive hours with good morale and low performance may need additional training or mentoring. Likewise, a staff member with great performance and low morale may be working too much.

 

Once you determine how much each potential factor is contributing to burnout, work with your staff to implement a remedy. Most likely, each factor will have some play in burnout and working to remedy even one factor can help lessen the overall impact of burnout.

 

While you can use metrics to gauge what needs improvement, do not forget basics like communication and interacting with staff, especially when you host comps or events in your gym.

 

Planning is crucial to getting back to the day-to-day after a special event. “Having a plan to make the workload manageable before, during, and after an event is mandatory if you want to ensure that events have minimal impact on a commercial facility and its routesetters,“ says Brad Weaver from Thread Climbing. “Having a plan in place and communicating that plan to the setting team and the gym staff helps set everyone’s expectations and helps reduce the stress on everyone involved.”

 

The bottom line is that though burnout is an individual experience, it’s generally a problem with the company, not the person. Depending on the size of your gym and how widespread your burnout problem is, it may be necessary to implement proactive cultural changes to how your business operates so that you are not constantly reacting to chronic cases of burnout in your staff.

 

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

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Creating a Positive Workplace Culture for Safety in the Climbing Gym

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Safety Culture

In this article we will take a look at how we can take a positive approach to creating a culture for safety in the climbing gym environment. At the end of the article, be sure to download our one-page quick reference guide to developing a safety program.

 

The term “Safety Culture” was coined by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group following the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In their summary report, ‘safety culture’ was pointed to as an underlying cause for the catastrophe. It was used as an explanation for the attitudes, actions, and systemic failures that led to the cascading effect of failures.

 

Over the years, ideas about ‘safety culture’ have evolved with research but the concepts, application, and understanding of what creates a broader “culture for safety” remain vital.

 

The Case for Workplace Safety

First, it is important to distinguish between those risk management issues that we deal with at a customer/patron level versus those at an occupational level. A customer chooses to accept a certain level of risk, most often via a liability waiver, in order to participate in climbing activities.

 

Juxtapose this with an employer who has a duty, to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards “likely to cause serious physical harm or death” and “comply with occupational safety and health standards.”[1] Likewise, each employee must also comply with health and safety rules, regulations, and standards, in addition to gym policies and procedures.

 

Besides the legal obligation that workplace safety is a requirement, there are other worthwhile reasons to move towards a pro-safety workplace.

 

Morally, it’s the right thing to do! Climbing gym employees and employers are often a collective of fellow climbers and friends. In such a community, we look out for each other.

 

Another reason is that there’s a business case for safety. A recent study found that workplace safety influences customer satisfaction, “suggesting that there are likely spillover effects between the safety environment and the service environment.”[2] This study showed that customer satisfaction and a company’s safety climate and injury rates were “significantly correlated.”[3]

 

Although the research was conducted in the electrical utility industry, and no specific research has been conducted correlating climbing gym customers and worker safety, it’s worth considering the parallels within service industries as a whole. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when employers take the safety of their employees seriously, they benefit through customer loyalty. In other words, a safe gym environment translates to a safer environment not only for your employees but to the customer as well.

 

Finally, a good safety program reflects a level of professionalism. Climbing walls/gyms in the modern age are legitimate operations that offer lifelong careers and provide health and fitness opportunities for generations of climbers. Employees are looking for opportunities for growth and desire to have lasting employment in a professional environment. Having written programs and systems in place is a key component for demonstrating that employee safety, health, and wellbeing are core values.

 

Safety Culture Characteristics

Looking to lessons from the nuclear power industry again, they identified five basic characteristics of a culture for safety that we can adapt to the climbing gym environment:[4]

  1. Safety is a clearly recognized value
  2. Accountability for safety is clear
  3. Safety is learning driven
  4. Safety is integrated into all activities
  5. Leadership for safety is clear
Safety Culture Characteristics

Each of these characteristics has specific attributes that contribute to sustaining safety culture.[5] For example, in order for safety to be a clearly recognized value (item 1), safety conscious behavior must be socially acceptable and supported by the employer and employees alike.

 

Item 3, “Safety is learning driven,” means that a questioning attitude prevails, that learning is encouraged, and assessments are used and tracked.

 

And for item 5, “Leadership for safety is clear,” the commitment to safety should be evident at all levels, and management should build trust to ensure continual openness and communication with individuals.

 

Positive Safety Leadership

Management reacting solely when there is an incident is short-sighted and ineffective. In a reactive safety environment, employees hide or do not want to report an injury for fear of retaliation or punishment. Consequently, blaming an employee rarely results in a positive outcome or a safer workplace.

 

Instead, management should take a proactive approach to make accountability a positive not a negative. Rather than focusing on blaming someone for a mistake, focus on what it takes to remedy the situation and enabling workers to practice safe work habits.

 

Accepting that hazards are inevitable and there is always the possibility of an accident, involve employees and work towards solutions that are meaningful to them. Positive reinforcement does not mean incentivizing employees for safe work but instead rewarding them through recognition and praise when someone does something well.

 

Measuring Safety Progress

Data have shown that there can be prolonged periods of time between incidents, but an unsafe working environment can still exist. The traditional approach, simply measuring accident rates is not a good means of determining if you have a sustainable safety program.[6]

 

In order for us to confirm that we are on the right track with our safety program, we have to be able to measure key components of the program.

 

Good data begins with selecting the right things to measure. Focus on measuring positive performance aspects of your program like:[7]

  • Safety Activities
  • Participation Rate
  • Perceptions
  • Behaviors
  • Conditions

Track the behaviors of workers on things like accident prevention, reporting unsafe situations, taking corrective action, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and participating in training. For example, track the use of protective eyewear rather than the number of eye injuries.

 

Gym Program Areas

Below are some of the program areas that may be relevant to your climbing wall or gym. This is not a comprehensive list as activities vary among facilities, so it is important to consider all the potential hazards and program areas.

 

Within each of these areas there are specifics that need to be tailored to the facility while keeping in mind OSHA regulations, state and local laws, insurance requirements, and industry standards.

  • Fall Protection – Comprehensive for routesetters and awareness level for other employees. Include training on dropped object prevention.
  • Portable Ladder Safety
  • Eye Protection
  • Hearing Protection
  • Emergency Action/Response Plan
  • First Aid/CPR
  • Aerial Lift Safety
  • Spill Response
  • Slips/Trips/Falls
  • Access/Egress

Example Scenario

Take a look at the following situation and consider the questions that follow:

 

A loose hold on a top rope climbing wall is reported to the front desk staff person by a member. Unfortunately, no routesetter is available but the staff person, who has some experience tightening holds, is eager to help, and takes it upon themself to address the issue. In an effort to tighten the hold quickly the staff person avoids getting a stepladder, extension ladder, or using a harness/rope system and instead climbs about eight feet high. In the course of tightening the hold with an impact wrench, the staff person slips from another loose hold, lands awkwardly, and seriously injures their back.

  • What contributing factors might have resulted in this accident?
  • What areas for improvements are there?
  • If you were in a management role how would you communicate with the employee? How would you communicate with other staff?
  • What can be learned from and improved upon from this incident and how is that communicated?
  • What other proactive measures might be considered going forward?

Clearly, the intentions of the staff person were good, as they were attempting to demonstrate good customer service and be proactive in remedying the situation on their own. But unfortunately, the choices the staff person made resulted in their injury.

 

For this situation a number of other variables would exist based on the facility itself. We might want to explore if there was a system or rule in place for who is authorized to address climbing wall maintenance. From there we could determine if the person was authorized to tighten holds and if they had the appropriate training. Other things we would want to look at would be the standard work practice for climbing wall work, do we allow someone to climb and set or should they be working off a ladder, lift, or via a harness and rope system?

 

Unfortunately, sometimes we do not know there is a weakness in our program until something goes wrong. Part of moving towards a culture for safety includes anticipating various types of incidents and proactively addressing them, but that’s not always possible. We have to accept that even the best programs can have gaps and take a productive approach.

 

In this case, the focus would be on improving the systems, communication, and training that can prevent future incidents from occurring and then tracking those changes going forward.

 

In Conclusion

Maintaining a positive safety culture is a process. There will always be pitfalls and areas for improvement.

 

The National Safety Council sums it up best by stating, “In an organization with a positive safety climate, where safety does not take a back seat to productivity, employees are likely to believe they have permission to do things right. Doing things right is a permeating value in a work unit that is likely to reach into several domains of work behavior, some of which influence the quality of work.”

 

Download our cheat sheet for a quick-reference resource containing guidelines for developing a safety program!

 

References

  1. OSHA General Duty Clause
  2. Does employee safety influence customer satisfaction? Evidence from the electric utility industry, P. Geoffrey Willis, Karen A. Brown, Gregory E. Prussia, 2012, Journal of Safety Research
  3. Can Worker Safety Impact Customer Satisfaction?, Laura Walter, EHS Today
  4. Chernobyl: 30 Years On - Lessons in Safety Culture, Aerossurance
  5. Culture for Safety, International Atomi Energy Agency
  6. Building the Foundation for a Sustainable Safety Culture, Judy Agnew, EHS Today
  7. 5 New Metrics to Transform Safety, Terry L. Mathis, ProAct Safety

Resources

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron 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 is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. He 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:  company culture  customer service  human resources  management  operations  OSHA  risk management  staff training 

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Gender, Variety, and Growth in Routesetting

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Monday, December 2, 2019
Jackie Hueftle Routesetting

As I’ve interviewed routesetters about their industry, topics that have come up over and over are diversity, variety, and professionalism.

 

A major piece of the puzzle is a setting crew that can set for diverse climbers—and that means a diverse crew. Many gyms lack setters outside the typical archetype of the tall male climber, especially female routesetters.

 

To get some perspective, I got in touch with one of the most experienced setters in the business. Jackie Hueftle has been setting for more than two decades as a competition setter, head setter, and everything in between. She currently works predominantly in her own climbing hold company, Kilter Grips.

 

WK: What role do you think diversity and variety play in routesetting?

JH: Diversity and variety are very important because climbing is about learning different moves, and the more moves you learn, the better you get at climbing (and the more fun it is!).

 

Diversity in size, strengths, and style of setters leads to the greatest diversity in movement which serves the entire gym population better by giving them stuff they are good at and stuff to work on in a variety of styles.

 

WK: Do you think homogeneity among setting staff is an issue?

JH: It can be; it depends on the gym and community. Even 5 5'10" tall 22 year old males can set totally different styles, and some of the reachiest setting I've seen has been from some of the shortest setters on my crews.

 

So basically diversity is good, but part of it is up to the setters and part of it is up to the owners/managers to give their setting crew the time and tools to experiment with different styles and create a diverse offering for their gym. Certainly having different sizes of humans is helpful to create more variety automatically.

 

WK: How much of a role does gender play in routesetting variety?

JH: It can play a big role, but it can also not matter either way. Traditionally certain genders were thought to have different strengths, but as more and more people break those molds it's becoming more about the setters' educations and efforts than their gender.

 

That said, like I said above about sizes of people, having people with different natural strengths and climbing styles is important, regardless of their gender. Perhaps it's better to consider adding newer climbers of both genders into the setting program, as with some training in setting and movement, they may be better able to empathize with the experiences of new climbers and therefore set stuff more appropriate to helping those people learn.

 

WK: What were some of the challenges of setting (or managing a setting team) as a female routesetter?

JH: Working events with an assortment of setters (with me as just another crew setter) was sometimes fine, but it also often I felt like I had to try extra hard for my opinion to be valued. A few times I stood behind my opinion and was later punished for it. I saw men in similar positions to me whose opinions were automatically more respected than mine. So that was frustrating.

 

Also, it seems like in the climbing hierarchy, being the strongest is always overvalued, and I was never the strongest. The strongest climbers don't always set the best routes or take the time to consider all the aspects of a route or a comp. On a crew you need many types of setters to create the best product.

 

Despite that logic, strength automatically wins socially in climbing/setting and so I have seen setters defer over and over again to someone stronger than them even though that person might not be as conscientious. Some gyms have this problem and it becomes endemic, so unless someone steps in and actively changes the culture, these strongest setters can ruin the experience of the rest of the crew and also the customers.

 

Strong climbers can also be amazing, conscientious setters. It's worth recognizing that they may need to work extra hard to empathize with newer and weaker climbers and the overall needs of a customer base.

 

Personally, as I got older and ran my own crew I didn't feel I had many challenges that were based on my gender. The Head Setter's main jobs are to be organized, to make sure tools and supplies are available, to educate, to give direction, and to integrate the setting department with the rest of the gym. We run 4+ big events a year at The Spot, so when I was Head Setter there we had a lot of room to do fun things during comps and then have a good regular rotation to meet our customer base's needs. I was doing most of these things before I even took over as Head Setter, and a while after that pretty much my whole crew was people I'd hired, so they worked for me as they'd work for any manager.

 

WK: Were there any advantages to setting (or managing) as a female routesetter?

JH: To some degree being a different gender than most of the crew made it easier to step out of the social hierarchy I mention above. I was also about 10 years older and way more experienced than most of them. Also, we focused on the customer base's needs, and those needs were pretty easy to identify and meet through organizing the program. So I guess advantages might be a penchant for administration, though you'll find plenty of men with those skills as well.

 

WK: Do you think there are any factors discouraging women (and other underrepresented groups) from becoming routesetters?

JH: Sure! The work is physical and doesn't pay super well and in some areas the culture isn't good as far as conversation topics. Many gyms are in stages of transition as far as professionalism and safety go.

 

It can be intimidating to start setting or hard to get a chance to start, and when you start setting you need to spend a lot of time learning, and of course being strong enough to carry big ladders and forerun a good portion of the climbs is useful, so there is a bit of a barrier there — though as I mentioned, I think that different people can still make very valuable contributions to a team even if they are not the strongest member.

 

WK: What can gyms, management, or other setters do to counteract those factors?

JH: Foster talent in your own program and have programs to attract and improve new talents. Have public clinics, allow non-setters who are interested in setting to forerun with the group, wash holds, and learn other setting related tasks to see if they're willing to work hard and would be a good fit.

 

For your own team, have clinics (self-taught or with outside talent) to help them improve, and then build in learning time in your program so it's not just about how many problems/routes you can set and how quickly, but how you are using the skills you're learning at the clinics and how good the end product is.

 

Give your setters plenty of feedback and reviews, let them explore new ideas, give them time to practice new skills, and support them in professional development.

 

Work with your team and it will be a better team that is more receptive to new team members and creates a better end product for your customers.

 

WK: As routesetting becomes increasingly professionalized, do you think the demands on routesetters will increase?

JH: Definitely. Setters have huge responsibility to help craft the customer experience at gyms, and gym management has a responsibility to support the setting program with resources and information — with holds, tools, time to organize and focus on employee health and wellness, and access to continuing education.

 

WK: Climbing’s popularity continues to rise — do you see any major changes for routesetting (or the sport as a whole) on the horizon?

JH: Setting will continue to get more professional, both in safety practices and in organizational practices and product output. There is a ton of room to improve still and many people are motivated to push our industry and trade to the next level.

 

WK: The conversation around inclusivity in climbing can be polarizing. What do you think is most important for gyms, setters, and climbers moving forward?

JH: We need to throw out the old narrative that climbing should be super sandbagged and is always a man contest and only outdoor climbers are real climbers. Indoor climbing is a great sport for fitness and social interaction. Many new climbers may only ever climb inside, and that's ok. The more we can support this side of climbing, the more positive this growth will be for climbing as a whole.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  women  workplace diversity 

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5 Ideas for Making Your Gym More Eco-Friendly

Posted By Megan Walsh, Friday, November 15, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

Foundations are being laid for new gyms across the country and more folks are roping up to maneuver monocolor routes than ever before. Private capital, blockbuster movies, and the inclusion of rock climbing in the 2020 Olympics are creating a boom in the industry.

 

At the same time, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released reports about the state of our environment that are pretty grim. If we’re unable to shift away from carbon and curb emissions in the next decade, we’ll face consequences that will affect our crags, our public lands, and the cities we call home.

 

The synchronicity of these events leaves the climbing wall industry with an opportunity to innovate. As the industry grows, so does the opportunity to create sustainable business models that ensure a healthy future for our climbing communities, crags, and our overall environment.

 

Wall builders, gym owners, and marketing managers across the country agree that the climbing industry isn’t quite there yet in terms of sustainability–though we have made progress from the days of toxic handholds and standard fiberglass walls. And while it’s difficult for current gym owners to transition to sustainable wall-building or architecture standards, there are many low-hanging fruit opportunities to make your gym more eco-friendly and sustainable.

 

Offer Composting at Your Gym

In the United States, 30-40% of food gets wasted, and when that food ends up in landfills, it creates the greenhouse gas methane, which is about 28x more potent than carbon dioxide. None of that is good news.

 

But climbing gyms can be part of the solution. “One way gyms can be more sustainable is by offering composting services,” says Anne-Worley Moelter, co-owner of Movement Climbing and Fitness in Boulder.

 

Start by contacting your local municipality about bringing a compost bin to your gym. Then let members know to bring their compost next time they swing by for a session.

 

Use Efficient Hand Dryers

Not only are hand dryers a more economical choice than paper towels (paper towels cost roughly 1 cent per hand dry, while hand dryers cost between .02 and .18 cents), but they’re also better for the environment in terms of waste and deforestation.

 

When selecting hand dryers for your facility, it’s important to consider factors like energy consumption and efficiency. Older hand dryers can take a minute or longer to properly use and aren’t always more sustainable than paper towels due to their higher carbon footprint. But the new quick-drying airblade machines have one-third the carbon emissions of their older counterparts, and while the price might be slightly higher upfront, the lifetime cost can save you thousands.

 

Have Monthly Raffles for Folks Who Use Alternative Transportation

As a way to incentivize your members to create fewer carbon emissions on their way to the gym, hold a monthly raffle for folks who use alternative modes of transportation. Anyone who uses public transportation, bikes, or carpools can be entered into a raffle to win gear from your sponsors–like a new pair of climbing shoes, a rope, draws, or a chalk bucket.

 

“We hold an alternative transportation raffle each month and it’s always a success,” says Anne-Worley Moelter. It’s a great way for members to feel like they’re doing good for the planet while also having the chance to win something for themselves.

 

Update Your HVAC System

Air conditioning can be expensive and extractive in a space as large as a climbing gym. The area is too wide to properly cool and you’ll likely end up wasting electricity in the process while dealing with climbers who don’t have ideal sending temps.

 

Tommy Chandler, from The Front Climbing Club, says, “We use a swamp-cooler HVAC system which is way cheaper while also using far less electricity. It’s a great, sustainable option for large spaces like climbing gyms.”

 

Install Solar Panels on Your Roof

Thirty years ago, when gyms opened their doors in the US, solar power was outrageously expensive and a non-starter for owners. Now, solar panels are less cost-prohibitive and more accessible. While the price tag can still seem pretty steep, many municipalities and solar panel companies offer leasing options so you can either rent- or lease-to-own.

 

Unfortunately, this still isn’t an option in some cities across America, but in terms of sustainability, it’s one of the best ways to reduce your gym’s overall carbon footprint, while also saving money on your electric bill.

 

The Triple Bottom Line

When it comes to sustainability, it’s important to look at the triple-bottom-line: people, planet, profits. What’s good for one might not be good for the other, but the balance is essential. Building a gym in a specific area of a city might have greater social implications–even if sustainability choices are left out altogether.

 

Climbing gyms can make sustainable choices that in turn will make their members feel better about choosing your climbing gym as their third space.

 

Megan Walsh Head ShotAbout the Author

Megan Walsh is a freelance writer and social media consultant based out of Salt Lake City, UT. Her work has appeared in a variety of outdoor publications like Climbing Magazine, Utah Adventure Journal, The Dyrt, and Misadventures Magazine. When she's not writing or climbing, you'll likely find her curled up with a book near a campfire, backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, or watching re-runs of The Office.

 

Tags:  company culture  management  sustainability 

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How to Advocate and Bring Mental Health Awareness to Your Gym

Posted By Megan Walsh, Friday, November 1, 2019
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

Physical activity has been linked to mental health benefits for decades. In a 1985 study published in Public Health Reports, three researchers found that physical activity not only helps alleviate moderate to severe depression but can also help with self-esteem issues, social skills, and stress response. Numerous internet articles and peer-reviewed studies continue to suggest that physical activity can dramatically reduce the effects of depression and anxiety while also improving an individual’s self-image and their ability to improve intentional decision making.

 

More recently, a group in Austria called Institut für Therapeutisches Klettern (Institute for Therapeutic Climbing) began integrating bouldering with therapy. Their study showed that the group of patients who participated in a 3-hour weekly bouldering session improved their BDI-II score, used to measure the severity of depression, by one severity grade–up 6.27 points compared to the control group who only improved by 1.4 points.

 

We know that physical activity, and now bouldering, have beneficial implications on mental health–and the topic of mental health has become far less taboo in recent years. So how can you integrate mental health awareness into your gym?

 

1. Schedule a Mental Health Focused Workshop or Event

Chances are you already have mental health professionals as members. Send out an email asking members if they’re interested in hosting (or attending) a workshop. At Momentum Indoor Climbing in Salt Lake City, one popular workshop addresses anxiety while climbing, while another focuses on balancing a difficult training schedule with a busy life. Whether you offer individual events or workshops that are part of a larger series, an emphasis on mental health in your events program can have a significant impact on your members.

 

2. Start a Bouldering League

Community is key in advocating for mental health. Members want to feel connected to the climbing community and hosting a bouldering league is a great way to facilitate that connection. A league strengthens the connection friend groups have with each other while also creating a space to challenge and encourage each other on a weekly basis. It also offers a structured opportunity to meet and interact with other climbers from different teams and build relationships through trying-hard and friendly competition.

 

3. Create a Specific Space for Community Development

At Wooden Mountain Bouldering Gym in Loveland, CO, all three owners are committed to developing a community and “third space” for their members. Adam Lum, co-owner of Wooden Mountain says, “People have work and they have home, but ever-increasingly there’s not a third space–they don’t have a church or a way to connect with the community.” At Wooden Mountain, community development space looks like an old kitchen table, a few comfy chairs, and board games.

 

No matter what your hangout space looks like, its mere existence provides an anchor of community life within your facility. The best “third places” share a few characteristics that set them up to be a community hub. For example, consider how you can make your space playful, accessible, welcoming, accommodating, and accepting. For more guidance, check out the Project for Public Spaces.

 

4. Advertise Courses That Promote Mental Health

Whether it’s Veterans dealing with PTSD or individuals experiencing disadvantages or disabilities, there are non-profits across the country that help individuals manage their mental health. The Phoenix, a free sober-active community, uses climbing programs as a way of promoting sober-living, while Adaptive Adventures offers climbing clubs and outdoor climbing experiences for climbers with disabilities.

 

Promoting local non-profits that integrate climbing and outdoor experiences with mental health helps strengthen ties within your community and offers members a way to connect with climbers of similar backgrounds and experiences. Even a simple social media shout-out for these non-profits or organizations says to members, “We’re a mental health ally.”

 

5. Offer Yoga and Meditation Classes

According to a Harvard Health study, practicing yoga reduces stress by “modulat[ing] stress response systems,” and can also reduce muscle tension. These are added benefits for climbers who also require flexibility for reaching difficult holds and being able to breathe in the midst of a challenging sequence. Yoga allows practitioners to bring awareness to the body–a critical need for climbers of all abilities.

 

Pick a Strategy and Get Started!

If you haven’t implemented opportunities for members to focus on mental health, any of these suggestions are a great place to start. Whether you offer a 6-week yoga session, invite a local professional to give a talk, or share local organizations on your social media channels, you’ll strengthen your gym’s identity as a space for mental health growth and conversations. If you have taken steps to facilitate mental health conversations and practices, let us know in the comments!

 

Megan Walsh Head ShotAbout the Author

Megan Walsh is a freelance writer and social media consultant based out of Salt Lake City, UT. Her work has appeared in a variety of outdoor publications like Climbing Magazine, Utah Adventure Journal, The Dyrt, and Misadventures Magazine. When she's not writing or climbing, you'll likely find her curled up with a book near a campfire, backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, or watching re-runs of The Office.

 

Tags:  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer service  leadership  operations  programming  youth team 

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The Routesetter as Professional: In Conversation with Ward Byrum

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Routesetter as Professional

As the sport of climbing grows, its infrastructure must grow along with it. Climbing gyms continue to multiply, and the demand for high-quality routesetting has increased in tandem.

 

As a result, routesetting is changing as a profession. To get a handle on what that means for the job and the sport, I spoke with Ward Byrum, Director of Routesetting for Earth Treks.

 

Ward oversees all routesetting operations for the seven gyms under Earth Treks branding. That includes hands-on setting work as well as team management for locations from Virginia to Colorado.

 

WK: Do you feel like routesetting is changing at all? How does routesetting fit in with what’s happening in climbing and climbing gyms?

 

WB: That’s a big question. I think in general, routesetting is changing — the rate of change is really accelerated right now. Gyms are more aware of the value that high-quality routesetting brings to a facility.

 

Also, because there’s this heightened awareness of its value, there’s a movement to compensate people better for routesetting. And routesetters who are good have elevated their value.

 

The trick is that there’s maybe not enough supply to meet that demand now.

 

WK: You mean there aren’t enough good routesetters to go around?

 

WB: Correct. And we’re playing a game where everyone’s kind of poaching everyone. I think a lot of people haven’t really sorted out how to grow and create routesetters from scratch in these local communities.

 

We spend a lot of time talking about our company’s Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion efforts. That’s one of the biggest successes we’ve had recently as a setting program. We acknowledged that if we continue to look for amazing experienced routesetters, then our setting teams will be largely white men, because they represent the people that currently have the experience.

 

By tuning into that, we were able to create a wealth of entry-level positions and then actively open the doors to underrepresented groups to come in and interview for the base positions. Then we can grow them into full-time roles. It’s something that’s paid off in our ability to have more female setters represented, for example.

 

WK: What do you think it takes for a climber to become a good routesetter?

 

WB: I look at routesetting as essentially a form of product design. A lot of how we interpret routesetting is around that theme.

 

I think being a successful routesetter is being aware of who you’re setting for. The more variety we have represented within the setting team, the more empathy and awareness and perspectives we have represented when we go to produce that product.

 

WK: Are there certain things you look for in team members?

 

WB: It doesn’t come down to being the strongest climber. They don’t have to have the most routesetting experience. We’re looking for people who are creative, who thrive in a group-oriented environment where we critique each other’s work constantly…

 

It’s difficult. It’s more aligned with product design, as opposed to the older terms, which were about replicating outdoor climbing, or a personal pursuit to create whatever the routesetter wanted to make.

 

WK: Obviously routesetting is very physical work. Do you have any best practices for keeping a team running smoothly under the demands placed on commercial routesetters?

 

WB: It’s important just to know the physical abilities of everyone on the team. We try to have very team-oriented goals so that everyone is able to plug into that system and work at the highest level. We’re able to change who is setting on what sections or what grades based on who’s going to be most successful at that task.

 

Having a realistic projection of output is important. There are plenty of routesetters who can come in and set four or five routes in a day, but that might not be sustainable, or it might not be the level of detail we want invested into the product. It may not allow us to forerun and sample and test that product enough before it becomes open to the public.

 

It’s about finding that balance between the level of product you want and the capability or energy you have to apply. Plus how much the company is willing to invest. It’s balancing those three categories.

 

WK: Do you see any misconceptions about routesetting staff among members and climbers?

 

WB: A lot of our efforts lately in some of the member clinics we host or in our social media content are about removing the mystique behind routesetting. We want to allow people to peek behind the curtain and understand the process of setting.

 

We want people to understand that the setters aren’t coming in and trying to set a sandbagged V4. They’re legitimately coming in and trying to set something that serves the members.

 

One of our catchphrases is: “Every route and every boulder could be someone’s project.”

 

So we try to think about the person who is investing a lot of time trying to accomplish this goal.

 

WK: Are there any sticking points between routesetting staff and gym management?

 

WB: I don’t think there’s a friction point, but I think something that’s important is the transition of routesetters from climber to worker.

 

One thing that’s helped us is interpreting routesetters not as climbers but as work-at-height professionals.

 

Once we begin to interpret them as work-at-height professionals, it enables the routesetters to take their job a little more seriously… they’re in a work mode. It creates a feeling that things are different and they need to conduct themselves differently.

 

The other component is that gym owners, gym managers, people at the front desk, and members all see us operating differently. They see us utilizing these professional tools. So we’re seen as more professional and further distinguish ourselves from just climbers who are putting holds on a wall.

 

That theme of professionalization has helped us gain respect industry-wide. It’s enabled us to gain things like better pay and better benefits because of this specialization. I think that trend will continue, and I think it will further define what professional routesetting looks like. It’s always a moving target.

 

WK: How does routesetting fit into the growth or stability of the sport in the future?

 

WB: Early on — I’m talking 20 years ago — maybe we kept a loose eye on bell curves and what grades are represented in a facility.

 

Now I’m going to keep a much closer eye on the amount of time each routesetter in a team is spending doing certain tasks associated with their job. I’m going to look at the product in pretty detailed ways. Eventually we will build that out much further.

 

I think stuff like Vertical Life and other programs that have back-end routesetting management tools but front-end capability to interact with members will be increasingly common. They’ll be an important part of the process as the conduit for the information members want to give a setting team.

 

I think we’ll see those systems perfected. Right now we’re still trying to see what data points are needed.

 

WK: Now and moving forward, what do you think gyms can do to make sure routesetting is a strong point for their facility?

 

WB: Ultimately, we need to find better ways of allowing the consumer to tell us what they want. It’s tricky, because the person might not have a ton of climbing experience. A lot of user responses might be just: if I was successful, I like it, and if I wasn’t, I don’t.

 

It’s really dissecting what a diverse climbing experience might be like. Some of our efforts now are around producing lifelong climbers. How do we keep members of the community engaged over long periods of time?

 

That includes social and community events, but there’s a routesetting component too. How are we engaging with the community and keeping them excited so that it doesn’t become a fad?

 

WK: Is there anything else you think is important for the routesetting profession in the future?

 

WB: While we’re in this time of flux where routesetting is becoming a better compensated role within a gym and better respected, it is of equal importance that the routesetters themselves realize that they need to rise to that standard as well.

 

You also have to be professional. It’s little things like wearing safety glasses, and it’s big things like when members complain about a route that you’re able to receive that information graciously and mediate to the best of your abilities. Make sure members feel heard.

 

Ultimately, we have to represent our companies and routesetting in a positive way so that we can break some of the stigma of, you know, the double-digit boulderer dirtbag climber who’s doing this as a way of climbing for a living.

 

If you want to work full-time and you want to pay a mortgage and raise a kid and routeset for a living, you have to bring something else to the table.

 

I think that a lot of focus in past years was on how gyms need to pay routesetters more. And that has started to happen. The follow up is: routesetters need to rise to the occasion as well and do their part to elevate the industry.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  company culture  risk management  routesetting  routesetting management  women  work-at-height  workplace diversity 

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Oh Canada: My Experience at the First CWA Meeting in Calgary

Posted By Chris Stevenson, Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2019
Chris Stevenson Speaking at CWA Meetings Calgary

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

I have always believed that the most successful people in any industry are the ones that focus on consistent professional development. In fact, “grow through constant learning” is one of my company’s core values.

 

I learn in many different ways. I read daily. I listen to podcasts while I’m driving or working out. I follow thought leaders on social media. I use apps like Blinkist and Ted Talks. I subscribe to relevant blogs and newsletters. All of these diverse methods of self-improvement allow me to learn different things, in different ways, at different times.

 

While all of these modalities are fantastic, I have found that live events are the most effective method of learning. Live events provide a level of energy and engagement that cannot be found anywhere else. They allow you to build relationships with other industry professionals. You simply can’t beat a well-executed live event.

 

I have been a part of the climbing industry for several years now, including workshops and keynotes at the annual CWA Summit for the last three years. If you haven’t attended this event, make it a priority. I present at events all over the world and the Summit is truly one of my favorites.

 

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting at the CWA’s first-ever regional event in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This event was special. There were three things that stood out; the intimate workshop, the brewery (yes, the brewery) and the keynote with a roundtable.

 

Intimate & Focused Workshop

On the first day of the event, I ran a full-day workshop at the Calgary Climbing Centre Rocky Mountain, which is an absolutely beautiful state-of-the-art facility. When I arrived at the gym for the workshop, the energy was off-the-charts. I mean, just feast your eyes for a moment on this striking outdoor wall!

 

Gloves for Hand Protection

Photo courtesy of Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, Architect Renante Solivar

 

The workshop was one of the best I have ever facilitated; and it wasn’t because of me. It was because of the smaller setting and focused group of attendees. In this context, everyone participated, which created a platform for diverse perspectives and in-depth discussions.

 

I know that I have some good things to teach, but the amount of sharing and discussion that occurred was just as valuable, if not more. There were healthy debates and discussions. The information-sharing was uniquely fantastic. I was the facilitator and I learned a ton. It was amazing.

 

CWA Meetings Management and Operations Track

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

Time to Unwind at the Brewery

Another thing that made this event exceptional was, well, beer. Yes, you read that correctly, beer.

 

After the full day of workshops, there was a reception at a brewery called Last Best Brewing & Distilling. The reception set the perfect scene for everyone to unwind after a long day of learning.

 

Guests were able to get to know each other better and build new relationships. Discussion and information sharing continued. People exchanged cards and connected on social media. They laughed and had a good time. The food was delicious, and the beer was refreshing and tasty.

 

I often joke that some of the best parts of events happen afterwards at the hotel bar. This time, it wasn’t a hotel bar, it was a brewery and it was a really strong part of the event. A good social experience at an event is crucial. The CWA team nailed it.

 

Informative Conference Sessions & Roundtables

The next morning, I had the honor of presenting the opening keynote to kick off the conference day. The gist of the keynote was about being the highest performer you can be while being a great team player at the same time.

 

Chris Stevenson CWA Meetings Keynote

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

The keynote seemed to go over well, and I think the attendees learned a lot. The kicker, however, was the roundtable discussion afterwards.

 

Whenever I present a keynote, my goal is to accomplish two things: to give very tangible information that people can use, and for them to actually take action. Let’s face it, all of the knowledge in the world is useless if you don’t take action on it.

 

The roundtable afterwards allowed me to drive those two points home. We took the five key teaching points in the keynote and spent 15 minutes discussing each of them in-depth. This gave everyone a chance to dig in deeper, share their thoughts, and teach each other.

 

I love roundtables. They are so beneficial, and I get to take a back seat and let the audience do the talking. 😜

 

The keynote, followed by a roundtable, was an absolute homerun. Wait, this was in Canada. The keynote followed by a roundtable was a hat trick.

 

A Great Event with a Healthy Dose of My Cheesy Canadian Jokes

Intimacy. Interaction. Information sharing. Learning. Networking. Fun. This event had it all. It was truly something special. If I had to grade the event, I would have to give it an… EH!

 

CWA Meetings Roundtable Discussion

Photo by Matthew Huitma, commissioned by Calgary Climbing Centre

 

I started this post by talking about the importance of learning. Learning keeps us relevant. It motivates us. It makes us better at our craft.

 

I encourage you to find ways to do diverse methods of constant learning. Get a new book. Download a podcast. Subscribe to a blog. Plan to attend live events like the CWA Summit and/or CWA Meetings like the one in Calgary. Schedule time for learning. Put it in your calendar. What gets scheduled gets accomplished.

 

When it comes to live events, lock it in your calendar. Set aside funds in your budget. Plan to attend at least one or two a year. While all methods are good and should be done, you just can’t beat the all of the amazing benefits of live events.

 

I’m very excited to head to Hoboken in a few days for the second CWA Meeting. If you’re in the New York/New Jersey area, I hope to see you there! Or join us next month in San Francisco. I have no doubt they're both going to be great events.

 

LEARN MORE

 

Chris Stevenson Head Shot About Chris Stevenson

Chris Stevenson is the owner of Stevenson Fitness, a full-service health club in Oak Park, California. The club’s success is based on providing an unparalleled member experience, which centers on proper staffing, systematic operations, and world-class leadership. This success is reflected in the club’s Net Promoter Score, which is consistently in the high 80s (industry average is in the 40s). Chris is an international speaker who presents viable, applicable lectures that resonate with every audience.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  CWA Meetings  employee engagement  leadership  management  operations  programming  risk management  staff retention  staff training  standards 

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Diversity = Variety: What Does It Mean for Commercial Routesetting?

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Diversity in Routesetting

Routesetting is a central part of the experience for every climbing gym’s end users: its members. Routes that are challenging but varied are one reason why climbers keep coming back. In order to provide the best experience for your customer base, it’s crucial to keep diversity in mind as you build your routesetting team and develop your setting program.

 

For an inside look at building a strong routesetting crew and what makes diversity so critical, I got in touch with Sean Nanos, Touchstone Climbing’s Head Routesetter for all of Southern California.

 

Sean discovered climbing at boarding school in New Hampshire, but it wasn’t until he moved to Oakland that he started setting. He rose to foreman at San Francisco’s Dogpatch Boulders before moving to Los Angeles for his current position.

 

WK: What are some of the meanings of “diversity” in routesetting?

 

SN: The most tangible meanings of diversity in routesetting are size (including weight, height, and ape index), age, gender, race/ethnicity, climbing ability, experience, and style.

 

WK: Why is diversity in routesetting important?

 

SN: By definition, diversity means variety. For a commercial gym, supporting climbers in densely populated urban areas means you’re going to be setting for nearly every body…I have yet to come across a single gym in any part of the country that is 100% all one “type” of person.

 

What diverse routesetting brings to the table is promoting inclusivity in our community and providing an experience that challenges every climber while at the same time validating their experience. It also opens the door to those who are interested in routesetting but didn’t think it was for them.

 

WK: What parts of the climbing population are underserved by a homogenous routesetting staff?

 

SN: The first groups that come to mind are women and short people (5’4” and under). As a 5’2” climber I can personally attest to feeling like I am not represented when I go climbing at a lot of other gyms. It’s very discouraging and annoying when you know it can be done differently. From a membership perspective, unknowingly setting for one specific body type can ruin a person’s first impression of what climbing is or how it can be enjoyed.

 

WK: When building a team, what are you looking for a setter to bring to the crew?

 

SN: I tell this to my new routesetters all the time: “You’re here to share your climbing experience, and whatever that means to you is what I want to climb.” Obviously we’re still a commercial gym, so during forerunning we’ll smooth out the climb as a group and make sure it’s comfy, safe, and consistent. But the core—the “soul,” if you will—of the climb won’t change.

 

That’s the goal, anyway. Every time we set a climb it’s a manifestation of how we think climbing is experienced, and when I’m building a team, I need a lot of different setters’ perspectives in order to come close to representing the variety of climbers that come to our gyms.

 

WK: What makes building a diverse team difficult?

 

SN: A lot of people still think that to be a routesetter you have to climb V10+. This archaic way of thinking is still prevalent when I ask someone if they are interested in routesetting. Also, most setting crews in the U.S. are still just a bunch of “tall” white dudes, which is a huge deterrent for talented potential setters that aren’t tall white dudes.

 

The desire and passion to learn routesetting is more important than how hard you climb. With the right training, talent, and experience, setters are able to set great commercial routes for any level.

 

WK: What can gyms do to find and maintain a diverse group of setters?

 

SN: You have to keep your ear to the ground. You have to put in a little more effort to reach out to those people that show potential. Don’t assume “if they’re interested, they’ll apply,” because if your team is a homogenous group of dudes, there’s a very high chance you’ll keep getting resumes and interest from more of the same dudes.

 

I wholeheartedly believe that having setters that are all at different ability levels makes for more successful commercial routesetting. If your entire team climbs V10+, they can become very disconnected to the way moderate grades should feel and climb. They may know objectively what makes a climb “easier,” but it’s easy to set inappropriately for lower grades when everything feels the same.

 

I make it clear to my crew that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how to use those to efficiently and effectively set, forerun, and grade is a lot of work, but the work shows when members climb our routes.

 

WK: As routesetting develops as a profession and craft, how do you think diversity will influence gyms in the future?

 

SN: As indoor climbing becomes more popular and all kinds of people are introduced to the sport, the need for standardized commercial routesetting training will become paramount in creating an inclusive community.

 

Even if you know a diverse team is good for your gym professionally and socially, you can’t lead with diversity—diversity is what you get to after you do the hard work of making your crew more inclusive.

 

You can’t hire someone just to make you look more diverse, you need to take a chance on people and figure out the best way to support them. Having a standardized training entry point can teach potential setters the basics and level the playing field so you can hire based on what an individual has to offer as a setter rather than as a token minority.

 

Elite routesetting teams will be composed of individuals capable of fielding climbs that can be enjoyed by all.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  customer experience  customer satisfaction  employee engagement  leadership  member retention  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  workplace diversity 

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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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