Climbing Wall Design for Maximum ROI
“VIP” sponsor, Eldorado Climbing Walls, hosted an educational presentation on Climbing Wall Design for Maximum ROI at the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education Conference in Snowbird, UT. In a panel discussion format, AORE members shared their expertise on maximizing their return on investment for a climbing facility, covering both design for a new climbing wall and upgrades/refurbishment of a climbing wall over time.
Jerad Wells, CEO of Eldorado Climbing Walls moderated the presentation while Jason Kurten with Texas A&M, Mitch Hoffman with the University of Minnesota, Ty Atwater with Oregon State and Jordan Messerer with University of Nebraska Lincoln offered exceptional insight on their layout, programming, and key ideas to help future projects obtain maximum utility out of each climbing lane.
Return on Investment
How do you define ROI? ROI for the climbing wall varied depending on the program in place comparing climbing capacity versus programming capacity versus revenue streams. One facility charges for open climb per semester while others offer free access to the rockwall with theRecCenterentry; accordingly to the panelists, money isn’t always the ROI factor. One panelist might rely on high numbers during open climb as a successful indicator of ROI, while other programs rate ROI as heavy enrolment for instructional classes.
Jason Kurten shared how the climbing facility at Texas A&M charges for not only entry to the climbing space, but charges a fee for instructional classes to both students and to the local community. Depending on the liability set forth and Risk Management Plan in place, opening the climbing facility to the local community can be a huge success and help maximize ROI. Fees for belay skills test varied from each panelist and some had no charge at all; the fee, or lack thereof depended heavily on whether the climbing wall was funded through student fees or not.
Location and Space
Panelists shared how their location and space influence their ability to design for ROI. Location can invite and contribute to the increase of new students to climbing. Kurten described how placement of his bouldering wall near the weight room increased climber traffic and brought attention to route setting for the new users. All of the panelists agreed that their involvement early on in the planning process ensured the success of their climbing wall program and allowed for maximum ROI. Mitch Hoffman shared how his space is conducive for bouldering and as such has incorporated a large portion of the space to dedicated bouldering. Atwatershared how he expanded to a 2nd climbing facility on campus and wanted an open traffic flow. His existing space bottle-necked at the entrance limiting the amount of climbers due to fire code; his 2nd location was open to allow for optimal traffic flow and layout.
Although each project was unique, each panelist shared similar key players: Student Body, Rec & Outdoor Dept., Purchasing/Facilities and the climbing wall manufacturer. Understanding the needs of each of the key players took effort, but resulted in a successful program. Student needs will vary as their climbing ability enhances over the course of the semester and needs constant monitoring. Design for a wall that allows maximum utility for all climbing levels ensures that student needs are met.
Atwaterstated that he uses a bell curve for route setting with 5.8 as the peak of the curve at the beginning of the fall semester, while as the year progresses along with the climbers ability, the grade shifts to 5.10 as the peak. Kurten shared how his program surveys students to learn feedback from the route setting, hours and programming. Kurten also highlighted the importance of the climbing wall staff. The staff needs to instill a level of respect on the wall to all climbers, both beginners and elite alike. Just because someone is climbing a V0, doesn’t mean they can’t rotate turns on the wall with a guy climbing a V7; the staff need to ensure this level of respect is maintained at the wall.
Furthermore, Wells mentioned the 80/20 rule; set 80% of routes for beginner, intermediate climbers and 20% of routes for the more advanced elite climbers. Climber retention relies on a feeling of success and achievement; therefore monitoring, surveying and simply asking for feedback ensures that routes meet the needs of the student body. Carefully considering layout will also ensure a level of comfort is met for new climbers. Messerer stated that his layout has a separate entrance that accommodates new climbers. The climbers can avoid the intimidation potentially exuded from elite climbers as they walk through the space and enhance traffic flow.
Hurdles and Considerations
Panelists shared hurdles of the climbing wall approval and build out. Mitch Hoffman encouraged others to monitor their dedicated climbing wall space. He had to protect his space from a decreased footprint while also providing positive feedback to local climbing gyms that his climbing facility will foster their business. Messerer told the audience how his climbing wall “space” was originally located within a newRecCenterbuild out. For over a year, Messerer and his team pursued approval of an Outdoor Adventure Facility to house not only a large footprint for his state of the art climbing gym, but also the campus bike shop, equipment rentals, classes and clinics. Through early planning and attention to detail, Messerer secured funding and approval for a climbing facility that will provide optimal instructional programming and recreational activity. Kurten was heavily involved in the refurbishment of his climbing tower and bouldering wall, not only justifying the need for the renovation but also monitoring the elements incorporated into the design. He proposed features such as a belay ledge for multi-pitch and rappel classes to open up his instructional programming to students and the local community.
One of the biggest hurdles shared among the panelists was the Risk Mitigation Plan. Without a proper Risk Mitigation Plan, facilities were vulnerable to attacks from outside administration. Panelists shared the value of adding learning outcomes and co-curriculum learning when presenting their findings to Administration. The panelists highly encouraged others to do their homework and to be prepared to present their Risk Mitigation Plan with a high level of professionalism, clean shaven face and in a language that meets the administrations needs.
Early involvement in the planning and design set the facilities for successful programming. All of the panelists shared a need for the ability to offer instructional classes, but which classes varied. Atwater’s climbing wall had a plethora of instructional features, but the most unique of all was the crate-stacking feature. The crate stacking invited cross training to the climbing wall among other sports;Atwatersaid the gymnasts were unmistakably the most skilled at crate stacking. Messerer shared how his design includes goat ramp to the belay ledge to increase user throughput for rappel classes.
RFQ vs RFP
Although there was variation in ROI definition, each of the panelists agreed that early involvement during the planning process enabled their facility to achieve maximum ROI. As Messerer’s project gained approval, he used a budget allowance to issue an RFQ to climbing wall manufacturers. Issuance of an RFQ in lieu of an RFP ensures that your climbing wall facility will be designed and built with the highest quality rather than on a price basis only. Whether your project is a design for a new climbing wall or an upgrade/refurbishment, proper research on the goals of the key players will give understanding on the optimal design for maximum ROI.
Author: Leslie Rasch, Sales Manager at Eldorado Climbing Walls
Through experienced consulting, Leslie assists potential Eldo clients to incorporate climbing and bouldering elements into their recreational and educational offerings. She is currently the Sales Manager of Eldorado Climbing Walls, one of the oldest USA owned and operated climbing wall companies. She experienced first hand the benefits of a collegiate climbing wall; she began her passion for climbing while pursuing a B.S. in Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences as well as B.A. in French at Texas A&M University.
Written by: Candie Fisher on November 26th, 2012