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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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Indoor Climbing Programs for Boomers, Part I - The Boomer Opportunity

Posted By Tom Weaver, Monday, April 22, 2019
Get Started with Boomer Programming

My Story

I’m just a flatlander Iowan, but I believe the information and lessons I’ve learned as the instructor for Climb Iowa’s Boomer Climbers Movement Class could be valuable for your climbing gym operation.

 

Ten years ago, at age 63, I walked into an REI flagship store with my two granddaughters (5 and 7 years old), and there was a 50’ climbing tower with people dangling from ropes. After my initial surprise, I carelessly said, “I’ll do it if you’ll do it” and they took me up on it! Instant regret - I’m not fond of heights. The oldest granddaughter climbed and then it was my turn. Wait, I thought, climbing can’t be good for folks over 50, 60, or 70…right? That’s certainly how I felt as I stood at the bottom of that tower looking up and wondering how the hell I’d gotten myself into this fix.

 

At that point I was like many Boomers. I thought I was pretty active but knew I was a ‘bit’ overweight, a ‘little’ stressed, didn’t exercise ‘quite’ enough (who has time?), had a ‘little’ problem with asthma, and had a ‘bit’ of a problem climbing too many stairs at once. I had never heard of, much less considered, indoor rock climbing.

 

Fast forward ten years, I’m 55 pounds lighter, have a resting heart rate about 25 beats/minute slower, and for nearly four years I’ve enjoyed being the instructor for the Boomer Climbers Movement Class at Climb Iowa. I look forward every month to helping a new Boomer class have fun and rediscover exhilaration while greatly improving their balance, flexibility, strength, and agility. My hope is that all of our Boomer students will find that indoor top-rope rock climbing with grace and skill is a great path to lifetime fitness and health.

 

The Business Case for Boomer-specific Programming

Beyond the fact that climbing can make a positive impact in the lives of Boomers, there is a compelling business case to be made:

  1. Millions of Boomers have the time
  2. Millions of Boomers have the money
  3. Retired Boomers can attend classes and climb during weekdays
  4. Boomers are increasingly interested in fitness and health
  5. There are 108 million Americans over 50, and 10,000 of them turn 65 every day

108 million folks over 50 are a few too many to ignore… agreed? Get started now if you haven’t already! Find the right instructor, design a Boomer class, and add a vibrant community of mature adult climbers to your business. It’s a big opportunity and a smart strategy.

 

According to Climb Iowa’s management team, climbers 50 years and older represent 7% of their membership base, and that number is rising every year. Some of these members are climbing 5.11 and 5.12 routes. The route ratings are not lenient, and these are flatlander Iowans – non-climbers prior to taking the Boomer Climbers Movement Class. Boomers at Climb Iowa learn that climbing techniques and precision movement skills are a great path to a lifetime of fitness, social interactions, and a new circle of friends.

 

The Boomer community is an enthusiastic and growing part of Climb Iowa’s business. Boomers may be vocal about their climbing, as it seems they do a good job recruiting new members after their experience in our month-long Boomer Climbers Movement Class.

 

Marketing Tips for Boomer Classes (ages 50 and over):

  1. Create signage and place around the gym
  2. Seniors prefer the term ‘Boomers’
  3. Word of mouth is best, find ways to encourage this
  4. Plan a few fairs or events per year specific to seniors/Boomers
  5. The instructor should be a Boomer who enjoys presenting indoor climbing’s benefits to his/her age group
  6. Train gym staff to explain the Boomer class to interested individuals

 

Potential Obstacles for Boomers

The primary obstacle for Boomers is fear of falling and injury. They require a logical and convincing discussion to even consider trying it. Most Boomers have had enough injury in their lives – been there, done that. Therefore, they appreciate an obvious and ongoing attention to risk management more than most and need to see risk management best practices outlined in class descriptions and hear about it at the outset of any discussions.

 

The secondary obstacle preventing Boomers from indoor climbing is that most have never been exposed to it. Among those who have, few have been presented with good information and available classes specific to their age group.

 

Messaging for Boomers – Overcoming Objections

Both of the obstacles mentioned above are easily addressed. Many Boomer students have mentioned that my age and ability to relate to their concerns were reassuring factors as they were making their decision to enroll. When we meet, I assure them I’m as interested in avoiding injury as they are, then explain that risk management will be emphasized and taught at all times throughout the month-long class. I also make a point to assure them they won’t need to do anything unless they’re willing (I encourage but don’t push).

 

Some “always wanted to try it” and saw that we had a class specifically tailored for Boomers. Others were like me; searching for a way to exercise that was more interesting than doing the same repetitive exercise motions over and over again week after week, month after month, year after year. Indoor climbing is pretty much the opposite of repetitive!

 

Several Boomers who attended our class either know climbers or have close family members who are climbers. Since Iowa winters seem to get longer every year, many Boomers who found their way to our class were simply looking for a great winter exercise activity.

 

Some students suffer from arthritis and had been prescribed regular exercise but got bored doing the same movements all the time – curls, treadmill, elliptical machines, weight machines, dumbbells, rowing machine, etc.

 

At least one student got enrolled in our class as a birthday gift from his family.

 

When Boomers express their concern about risk prior to taking the class, I explain that climbing is dangerous but that published injury rates for indoor top-rope climbing are remarkably low compared to other sports and activities like tennis, biking, or even treadmill exercising. Explaining the difference between actual risk and perceived risk is particularly important for Boomers who are new to climbing. I’m not fond of heights and explain that I didn’t begin taking classes at Climb Iowa until I had researched indoor climbing’s injury rate. Many laugh at that, but I can tell they feel pretty much the same. They’re glad to know injury rates are low compared to other popular sports and activities – many of which they have done before.

 

I go on to say the goal for the class is to learn to climb with skill and grace and have fun while doing it. It’s also important that the class encourages successful aging through fitness and health. I explain that although it seems unlikely, indoor climbing is actually a great fall prevention activity. We discuss why that’s true and how the strength, flexibility, balance, and agility gained through indoor climbing can help improve their daily lives.

 

I also mention how much fun it is watching your friends’ faces as you casually mention that you went rock climbing the other day. Boomers who rock climb in Iowa are about as common as big game hunters, but this type of comment may not be as effective if you live in Colorado or Utah.

 

A Summary of Messaging for Boomers:

  1. Climbing is dangerous, yet indoor climbing has a remarkably low injury rate per thousand hours of participation when compared to other activities (Again, see Fear vs. Reality on my website)
  2. How indoor climbing changed the instructor’s life; he’s an active climber at age 72
  3. Indoor Top-Rope Rock Climbing has a remarkable list of high-value attributes:
    • It’s Exhilarating and Social; you meet new friends and interesting people
    • It Never Gets Old (routesetters are always busy)
    • It’s Low Impact – smooth movements, not jerky, doesn’t pound on joints
    • It’s Inter-generational; you can belay and climb with grandkids, children, and younger adults
    • It’s Confidence-Inspiring and enhances self-esteem
    • It’s a Total Body Workout, yet so fun you don’t even notice how much you’re exercising
    • It’s Physical and Cognitive; fun on many levels!
    • Functional Strength is best realized through skill development. Indoor climbing can improve daily life by delivering true functional fitness to Boomers.
  4. Indoor Rock Climbing is a great Fall Prevention Activity – here’s why:
    • 2.4 million older Americans are treated for fall-related injuries annually, 700,000 are hospitalized
    • Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries in the United States
    • Indoor climbing has a world-class fall prevention system – perfect for older adults
    • This fall prevention system develops balancing muscles and skills – great for older adults
    • Indoor climbing strengthens the core, hips, and legs, and supercharges agility and center-of-gravity awareness. This all adds up to make indoor climbing a great way to reduce the risk of falls in daily life.

Next Time, Tips for Boomer Instruction

In Part II of this series, I will go into detail on how to structure classes for Boomers and provide my best tips and tricks for working with this age group. Keep an eye out for it in the CWA newsletter!

 

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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Building Your Team's Performance and Cooperation With Some Simple Activities

Posted By Bix Firer and Pat Brehm, Monday, April 8, 2019
Building Team Performance

Establishing buy-in and cooperation from the young climbers in a climbing program must go beyond simply establishing a set of rules and reactively enforcing them. Rather, it is important that the structure of the program is built on a foundation of activities and participant-created expectations that promote cooperation and give youth climbers agency over their own progress and development. In doing so it is possible to create a programmatic environment that keeps climbers engaged while promoting their independence. This structure also holds them accountable to their peers and themselves rather than just to their coach. These practices can make the task of keeping climbers focused on practice much easier for coaches. Among the most intentional ways to build this cohesion and accountability in a group is to cater activities to help a group develop together.

 

Using Tuckman’s stages of group development as a road map, coaches can build simple activities into their practices that promote individual and group cooperation. Depending on the stage of your team’s development, the coach can use climbing-related activities to contrive situations that assist the larger group to act as a unit, commit to the process, and move forward to an ultimate goal of performing well together. In doing so, the coach can foster an inclusive environment that values commitment to self and team, which often leads to the team holding its individuals accountable for meeting goals rather than letting that responsibility fall solely on the coach – a dynamic that can be very challenging for the coach.

 

When a group comes together, educational psychologist Bruce Tuckman proposed that they naturally move through 5 stages of development. Most groups will move through in the same order, and these stages of development will generally be observed as a new group comes together (i.e. as your team all meets each other), when a significant change happens (i.e. a new coach or a bunch of new team members join), or as a major goal is put forth (i.e. competitions are looming).

 

The developmental stages are as follows:

 

Forming - Your climbers will be reserved. They will focus on determining their role within the group and be conflict-avoidant.

 

Storming (some groups may skip this stage) - Members of your team begin to create judgements about each other, their coaches, and their ultimate goals. This stage requires skillful openness, conflict resolution, and an ability for your team members to be heard and find a unifying project. Conflicts over process, communication, and interpersonal differences are common.

 

Norming - This stage is all about making sure your team understands their common goal - whether it’s an upcoming competition or a focus on holding each other accountable during training. During this stage it’s essential to allow your group to practice succeeding together and celebrate their successes.

 

Performing - In this stage, if you have helped your team reach a high level of performance by ushering them through the previous stages, your job is to facilitate activities that will help your team perform above and beyond their expectations, using the collective energy and focused goals you have helped curate.

 

Adjourning - If your climbers are to perform well, they must reflect as they complete their goals. This is the greatest investment you can make in helping your team come together quickly as they continue to take on new challenges.

 

Here is a simple framework of climbing-related activities that can help your team work through these stages:

 

1) Forming - Sorts and Mingle Climbing Partners

 

a) Climbers are performing a simple warm-up (Jumping Jacks, Burpees, etc.) to start each round. Coach yells out a number, cueing climbers to form groups of that number. Coach will assign one activity and one discussion topic for groups to complete (Ex: Complete three high-five push-ups and discuss your favorite climbing style). Once complete, climbers return to the warm up exercises and wait for the next number to be called out.

 

b) After a few rounds, coach leads debrief encouraging climbers to share something they learned about a teammate.

 

2) Storming - Team Points

 

a) Instruct the team that their goal is to climb a certain number of V-Points or YDS-Points collectively as a group. Set the goal based on time allotted, number of climbers and general ability level of climbers. Give the team 15 minutes to strategize with each other before they begin. The strategy session can include discussion of individuals’ strengths and planning for who will climb which routes/problems. Adjust the challenge by allowing or not allowing boulder problems or routes to be climbed by more than one climber or establish a maximum number of total problems (Ex: 50 V-Points in 10 or less boulders). This will encourage the team to discuss the best strategy and assign certain problems/routes to certain climbers.

 

b) As potential conflicts in strategy or ability arise, pause the activity and work with the group to come to a resolution that suits all members of the group.

 

3) Norming - Blindfold Buddy Climb

 

a) In groups of three, one person is the climber, one is the belayer, and the other is the guide. The climber wears a blindfold and attempts to climb a route (well below their flash level) while the guide to instructs their movements.

 

b) Be sure all group members perform each role.

 

c) Focus your debrief on the successes of your group.

 

4) Performing - Train Your Weakness

 

a) Climbers are paired up based on their strengths and weaknesses such that ideally, each climber is strong or at least proficient in his/her partner’s weakness (If this is not possible, partners should be flashing around the same grade). Groups then play PIG with boulder problems. Climber 1 chooses a problem they think will challenge their partner’s weakness and attempts to climb it in one try. If they are successful, Climber 2 must complete the problem. If they do not, they get a “P”. Partners take turns choosing the problem until the time allotted has run out, or a group member gets PIG.

 

b) The debrief should focus on supporting each other in improving and communicating needs. Encourage your climbers to focus on how these skills will help them succeed at their ultimate goal.

 

5) Adjourning/Reflection - Team Add-On

 

a) The team is instructed by the coach that they need to set a new boulder problem or route (with existing holds) that represents the accomplishments of the team. This can be done following a competition, at the end of a season, or at the completion of a longer-term team goal. Each climber should be represented in the finished product by at least one move that represents something that they accomplished or that they brought to the team. (Ex.: A climber who developed their crimp strength over the season might add a difficult crimp move that they might not have been able to do when they joined the team. A climber might add a move that resembles a move on a boulder in a competition they won or did well in). The coach should take a backseat in the process of creating the boulder or route. When the route is complete, the climbers take turns climbing the entire problem or route and explain why they added the move they did and how it represents their accomplishment or contribution to the team.

 


Creative Coaching: Tools to Help Climbers and Coaches Meet Their Goals

Want more tips, tricks, and strategies to implement in your youth climbing program? Don't miss the Headwall Groups's pre-conference workshop at this year's CWA Summit. For assistance adding a pre–conference to your registration, reach out to us at 720-838-8284 or events@climbingwallindustry.org.


 

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  leadership  programming  youth team  youth training 

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Seven of the Best Citizen Climbing Comps in the US

Posted By Emma Walker, Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Best Climbing Competitions

Every year, more members are looking to test their skills as gym climbing grows in popularity. And for those with a competitive streak, there’s no better (or more fun) way to gauge progression than a competition at their local gym. Rallies and meetups at iconic climbing areas are all the rage—just look at the Hueco Rock Rodeo and 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, for example—but why should outdoor crags have all the fun? If you’re looking to start a comp at your gym, look to these seven citizen comps for inspiration.

 

Portland Boulder Rally

The Portland Boulder Rally, held at The Circuit, is among the country’s most beloved climbing events. With a $10,000 cash purse (and tons of raffle prizes and swag being handed out), it’s an aspirational event—and a chance for local boulderers to rub elbows with some of the top athletes in the game.

 

Yank-n-Yard

Albuquerque’s Stone Age Climbing Gym hosts the annual Yank-n-Yard, a major event for the Southwestern climbing community. In addition to the youth comp and competitive categories, there’s an affordable citizen comp—not to mention a beer garden, live music, and awesome after-party, complete with a dyno comp and slacklining.

 

Back2Plastic

Momentum’s Lehi, Utah location looks forward to the Back2Plastic citizen comp every year. The low-key redpoint format, along with four ability-based categories and a masters division, make Back2Plastic a super-approachable comp for members of all ability levels. Momentum Lehi makes the most of its comp night by hosting a “mega demo” and sale on tons of shoes and gear.

 

BKBDay

Brooklyn Boulders throws itself an annual birthday party in Chicago, and it’s not your average climbing comp. BKBDay pulls out all the stops and puts on circus and acroyoga performances, a highline, and sponsored food and drink. The party kicks off with a Do-or-Dyno competition and gives half the proceeds from comp t-shirt sales to the Access Fund.

 

Deadpoint

Salt Lake City’s The Front knows how to throw a Halloween party. Their annual, cleverly-named Deadpoint comp takes place at the end of October, and although there’s a “monster” cash purse, the most coveted prize is the Best Costume honor. (You’d be amazed at the intricate costumes people can boulder in—Disney characters, the Hulk, you name it.)

 

Touchstone Climbing Series

The gym that serves America’s most populated state has community climbing comps down to a science. The Touchstone Climbing Series runs for nine months of the year, and holds events for a wide array of skill levels, both on boulders and ropes. Each gym hosts its own self-scored comp throughout the series, complete with pizza and beer. Events are free for members of its gyms—and just $25 otherwise: a great way to draw in non-members.

 

Iron Maiden

As women’s climbing events and festivals become more popular, there’s increasing demand for women-only competitions, too, and the Iron Maiden delivers. An offshoot of MetroRock’s successful Dark Horse Bouldering Series, Iron Maiden offers team and individual competition. The all-ladies comps (and the fact that the gym has historically donated proceeds to a nonprofit organization) have generated great PR for MetroRock.

 

With the hundreds of climbing facilities now operating in the US and Canada, there’s no shortage of amazing programming and citizen comps out there! What other comps stand out to you? Leave us a comment below to share your thoughts!

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  competitions  customer experience  customer service  marketing  programming  women 

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5 Programs Your Members Wish You'd Offer

Posted By Emma Walker, Monday, December 10, 2018
Climbing Gym Programming

Member engagement is critical in retaining customers, so it makes sense that climbing gyms offer a huge variety of programming to keep their members happy. Some of these programs are climbing-related, while others are focused on cross-training or building community. These five program types have had widespread success at climbing gyms across the country:

 

1. Gym-to-Crag Education

 

If members at Earth Treks Golden want a spot in one of the gym’s Sport Climbing Outside or Self-Rescue classes, they’d better sign up early – these multi-part clinics fill up fast. As more climbers begin venturing outside, educating them about the basics of crag safety (and etiquette) is increasingly important. After members complete a Lead Climbing 101 course (or have equivalent lead climbing and belaying experience), they’re ready to learn the basics from a qualified instructor in a safe environment. Bonus: Monthly members are offered a discount on their class fees.

 

2. Technical Instruction

 

As climbers become more proficient, they continue to need mentorship – and what better place to turn than their local gym, where many of them meet their partners? Bend Rock Gym offers Anchor Building 101 and 102 classes. These sessions are specifically tailored to the conditions climbers will encounter at nearby Smith Rock, but the gym notes that once climbers have learned to set up anchors on bolted climbs at Smith, they can apply that knowledge wherever they climb.

 

3. Speakers and Slideshows

 

Your members might have joined the climbing gym to move around, but if the topic is interesting enough, they’ll sit still for an hour or so. Just ask Eric Wickenheiser, Alaska Rock Gym’s Operations Manager. ARG often hosts local climbers to give talks to the tight-knit Anchorage climbing community on their latest adventures, and even did a live recording of the popular podcast The Firn Line with hometown hero Roman Dial. Events like this are fairly inexpensive to put on, and climbers will remember that your gym is supportive and in tune with the greater climbing community.

 

4. Fitness Beyond Yoga

 

Many gyms offer a variety of yoga classes these days, and at lots of facilities, those classes are packed every day of the week – it makes sense, since yoga is a great supplement to climbing. It follows that members jump at the opportunity to increase their fitness or cross-train in other ways, like Earth Treks’ Mountain Prep: Ski + Snowboard Class, its popular 30-minute “The Burn” and “Core Burn” classes, or Milwaukee-based Adventure Rock’s Olympic Lifting and Partner Yoga classes.

 

5. Adult Climbing Leagues

 

Tons of gyms offer coaching, climbing leagues, and comps for kids up to age 18, but for folks who don’t get into climbing until adulthood, it can be tough to learn the ropes without an experienced friend or mentor. Climbing teams for adults go beyond the two-hour Movement 101 classes many facilities offer and give newbie climbers a chance to meet climbing partners and build community. “It’s a group [members] really get into, and our coaches take the training seriously,” says Boston Rock Gym owner Chris O’Connell, whose members often climb together outside the league. “People love it.”

 

As you evaluate your own program lineup, use these examples to spark new ideas that can be implemented at your organization. The key to success is engaging your membership and customers with experiences that will delight and inspire them!

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  community development  customer experience  customer satisfaction  programming 

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It’s Not a Cakewalk: How to Develop a Birthday Party Program

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Monday, December 3, 2018
Updated: Friday, November 30, 2018
Climbing Gym Birthday Parties

With fees ranging from $100 to over $300 for a two-hour party, birthday party programs can be a serious and solid income stream for climbing gyms and also align with other business goals. Not only are you creating a community for your existing youth climbers to celebrate their milestones in your gym, you are also gaining exposure to new youth and families that are not already members of your gym.

 

A birthday party program, like any revenue stream, requires business know-how, research, and set-up to make sure that it’s successful and in line with your brand and business mission. The process for researching the viability of a birthday party program, as with any program for your gym, is known as market research, and the more effort you put into it, the more successful your program will be. Effective market research will result in developing a program that meets customer’s needs, is competitive with similar offerings, is financially viable, and offers a repeatable template for every event.

 

Know Your Customers and What They Want

No matter the size of your gym, the most effective way to learn about your customers is to perform your own market research. In-house market research can be done through conversations, online surveys, or by looking at online analytics. While it’s likely that your existing members will take advantage of your birthday party program, the insights you will gain from research will help you market to a new set of customers, which gives you opportunities to boost membership and promote youth programs. When you research customers, you’ll need to answer the following questions:

  • Who is going to book a party at your gym?
  • What other options are they likely to consider for their party location? Why?
  • Why do they book parties at venues?
  • What factors are likely to convince them to book a party at your gym?

The answers to your research questions should include general and specific information, for example:

 

Who is going to book a party at your gym?
General information: Parents
Specific information: Parents of children aged 8-14 within a 10 mile radius of the gym

 

Know Your Competition and What They Offer

What is your competition? While you might think that a neighboring gym is your main competition, when it comes to birthday parties you are now competing with amusement parks, zoos, restaurants, and countless other venues. While the sheer volume of venues can be overwhelming, focus your research on venues that host parties comparable in size to ones you will offer in your gym. After reviewing your competition, you can determine what you offer that they don’t.

 

When you research competition in your area you should be collecting data on:

  • What services/activities they offer
  • What rates and fees they charge
  • Their marketing materials and ads
  • What can you offer that they can’t? (Unique selling proposition)

 

Set up a Party Space

Unless you want kids carrying drinks and cake all over the gym, set up a dedicated party space and make sure guests understand your expectations on where they eat and place food. The party room should be easy to set up, decorate, and clean. Determine what you will offer and what you expect parents to bring or do.

  • Will you decorate or give out goody bags?
  • Do you have ice?
  • Do you offer a sink or kitchen space that can be used?
  • Do you have enough tables and chairs for kids and parents?
  • What activities will you offer: only bouldering, only top-rope, games or other hands-on activities?
  • Do you provide an e-vite with links to waivers and information about climbing in your gym?

 

Calculate a Pricing Structure

You’ll want to calculate a pricing structure that adequately reflects your value proposition in addition to the party aspect. Birthday parties at your gym may cost more than hosting a party at the local pizza place – and you should be prepared to explain why. One obvious unique selling point is the value of the experience the kids will get when they learn about and get to try indoor climbing.

 

There are different pricing models that you can apply, but you’ll want to consider material costs, labor costs, and other fixed or overhead costs that are inherent to running a climbing gym, as well as competitors’ pricing. It can be difficult to determine a pricing structure, as you must balance selling a service, delivering value, and earning a fair profit. As you build and develop your program you can monitor and change prices.

 

Create Birthday Party Packages

Once you know what your customers want and what the competition offers, it’s time to figure out what you are going to offer. You’ll want to clearly and specifically outline what you’ll offer and how much you’ll charge. Things you’ll want to cover in your packages are:

  • Base rates and rates for add-ons
  • Times/days that you offer parties
  • What age range can you accommodate? Are the space and activities appropriate for all ages?
  • What you provide; plates, napkins, serve ware, shoes, harnesses, etc.
  • What parents need to provide; decorations, drinks, food, cake, etc.
  • Do you have a parent or adult/child ratio requirement?

You can be creative with packages to sell more at a better price. How you present your packages can make or break your program, so make sure to re-evaluate if you are not seeing the sales you were expecting.

 

Get the Whole Team on Board

Getting the whole team on board with the new program is crucial to its success. Not only is training essential to make sure that events are booked and run properly, you’ll also be engaging and investing in your staff. Provide the staff all the information about the new program so they can answer questions and speak to guests about booking events. When events are booked and held make sure that everyone knows what the expectations are for their involvement.

 

Market Your Birthday Party

Once you’ve researched and defined your birthday party program, it’s time to get the word out and generate sales. As part of your research on competition you collected data on marketing, now you’ll use it to promote your program. Obviously you’ll want to promote your birthday party program to your existing members and on your social media.

 

To target new customers, you’ll use your research on who your customers are and advertise to them. Add a landing page to your website with relevant information and be sure to include an information capture form to get leads. Create a list of likely search terms, such as “best kids birthday party venue,” and target them with ads. Send out press releases to local media outlets. Invite local family and mom bloggers to come tour the facility and write about what you offer and why it’s unique. There are lots of marketing strategies to choose from, but the key is to think about where your customers “hang out,” whether that’s online or in person, and develop a plan to reach them.

 

Putting It All Together (PIAT)

Creating new business lines can be intimidating, however the pay-offs make it worthwhile. Set realistic goals for accomplishing each step of market research and launching your new program, set it up properly and do it right the first time. Birthdays are a life milestone at any age and developing a well-thought-out birthday party program builds the community in your gym and creates brand loyalty with your members. You may not be able to research everything, so stick to the areas that will provide you with the most important information:

  • Know what your customers want
  • Know your competition
  • Create a fun and functional party space
  • Run the numbers to develop pricing
  • Clearly outline everything you offer
  • Train all the staff on expectations
  • Market and book birthday parties

 

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:  birthday parties  marketing  operations  programming  staff training 

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