Facility Owners Must Choose Climbing Wall to Match Interest Levels of Patrons
REI's flagship store in Seattle features a realistic-looking wall that leaves climbers and non-climbers breathless — perhaps for different reasons.
Do you know who your climbing wall's users are likely to be? Because if you can picture your climbers, you can probably conjure up the type of wall that will make them happiest.
The climbing area at the University of Akron Student Recreation and Wellness Center has elements that could appeal to a wide range of climber: A 53½-foot-tall wall and freestanding bouldering arch that offer a texture and features similar to what you might find on a mountainside, manufactured in combination with a panel system that offers many flat spots for a variety of holds — and thus, a greater number of climbing routes.
"It's a great style of wall, because it looks cool, and that's important because we service all types of individuals, but it also allows us to support the local climbing community, which we need to do as well," says Andy Loue, the rec department's manager of outdoor adventure. "A lot of the more serious climbers have plywood walls in their garages. I serve students. I get the athletic-minded student who wants to challenge himself. But I also get that classic student who walks by our wall 20 times before he gets the courage to walk in and try it. And then, lo and behold, that person turns into a regular."
The climbing area at the University of Akron Student Recreation and Wellness Center is designed primarily to attract newcomers to the sport.
But where a recreation facility operator might view these planes as excessively plain, skilled climbers see a beguilingly blank canvas. Bill Zimmermann, executive director of the Boulder, Colo.-based Climbing Wall Association, notes that many facilities used in indoor climbing competitions (such as the World Cup held last summer in Vail, Colo.) utilize walls made as featureless as possible, with panels of plywood sometimes coated with nothing but clear polyurethane. The purpose, Zimmerman explains, is to minimize the use of the panel as an aid to gaining traction and finishing a route. Forced by the wall designer and route-setter to use just the available holds, the climbers ascend only in the intended sequence of moves or fall back to earth in the attempt.
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