The expert advice to answer your most pressing questions. This month, Dan McCoy, the assistant director of Campus Recreation at the University of Wyoming, shares advice on effectively running a climbing wall.
What makes the climbing program at the University of Wyoming (UW) unique?
DM: Climbing is a very popular activity here at UW. We are very close to world-class climbing at Vedauwoo, though the outdoor climbing season is relatively short. We cater to a very wide variety of climbing abilities from beginner to expert and even sponsored climbers. Our facility is open to UW students, faculty and staff, though we are the only climbing facility in Laramie.
What are the benefits of boasting a climbing wall within a campus rec center?
DM: At our facility, the climbing wall is the focal point. We have a 38-foot freestanding tower with an archway, a separate bouldering wall and top-rope teaching area. Since we have such an active and robust climbing community, having a climbing wall is beneficial to student recruitment and retention. We also use the wall for instructional purposes. There are cardio areas on the second and third floors that face the climbing area, with nice views of climbers and abundant light from the south and east. We enclosed the climbing area so there isn’t noise transference from cardio areas to the climbing area. We have found that the users really enjoy this. The separation of areas also helps to keep chalk dust off of cardio equipment.
What are some of the challenges?
DM: Any climbing wall facility needs a robust operational plan, staff training and qualified staff. For top-rope climbing you need to have a wall monitor. Climbing wall flooring needs to be replaced on a regular schedule due to continual impact attenuation. Climbing routes need to be changed regularly to keep the interest of habitual climbers. Finally, maintenance and inspection of the wall also needs to be part of the operational plan.
How have you overcome these challenges?
DM: Hire good staff, train them well and pay them well to keep them around. Listen to your users, incorporate their feedback to the best of your abilities and make sure that your routes are changed regularly. Ensure that climbing wall route setters are not just setting routes for themselves, but for the needs of the wall and its users.
Why did you decide to make the climbing wall free to patrons, versus fee-based?
DM: This is a philosophical decision. We believe that facility users would prefer to pay one fee to use everything in the facility rather than paying a variety of fees for different services. This works for a campus recreation facility, but perhaps it would not work well for a private facility.