Home > Uncategorized > Welcome To The New Routesetting Blog

Welcome To The New Routesetting Blog

Anyone who was a reader of our routesetting blog in the past may have noticed that there’s been a bit of a hiatus in posts. Our old blog author, Jackie Hueftle and previous Head Routesetter, manned the ship when she was the head setter at The Spot.  She has since moved on to develop the climbing company she co-founded: Kilter Grips. Now, under current head setter Sarah Filler, I hope to maintain the same standard in continuing this blog. The purpose of these posts will be to help educate our members about the burgeoning world of routesetting by peeling back the curtains to show you what we do day in and day out. With that said, what’s been happening while we were away?

It’s no secret that the climbing gym industry has been booming. With climbing entering the 2020 Olympics it’s fair to say there is more noise in the climbing industry now than ever before. In fact, climbing gym growth rates have not dipped below 6% each year since 2010, and it’s not just big names. 25 of last year’s newly opened gyms were opened by people doing so for the very first time. What does this growth mean for the industry? And more specifically, what does this mean for routesetting?

The explosion of new gyms across the country has brought with it a surge in jobs in the world of routesetting. What was once a part-time gig for dirtbags and van dwellers has become a viable career with titles including ‘head’, ‘regional’ and ‘director of.’ Things are changing and change brings new challenges. How will such a nascent industry handle the battle between a constant push for growth and such an extreme desire for experience?

Scoring a setting job in a climbing gym is hard. And why wouldn’t it be? You can’t major in it, there’s no third-party certification for commercial gyms, and climbing experience alone isn’t enough. How do you even get your foot in the door? With such fast growth in such a young industry and no system for producing setters, it seems the obvious outcome will be new gyms with head setters and setting staff with a smattering of experience at best. Similarly, gyms with a proven track record for success and a systematic and thorough approach to training new employees will shine. Does this matter? Is routesetting even hard? Is there an identifiable difference between a good setter and a bad setter? In order to answer these questions we need to look at the metrics for a quality climb versus a lackluster climb. A few easily identifiable qualities include:

  • Fun – was the climb enjoyable
  • Comfort – are the holds comfortable, are there tweaky movements for the wrist/shoulder/back
  • Creativity – is the climb unique or do we set this style boulder in this location every set
  • Challenge – does the climb puzzle the mind or just tax the muscles
  • Aesthetic – does the climb appeal to the eye

A routesetter who is conscious of these attributes will see more success than one who is not. This is important because climbing gyms ultimately have a single product. Behind the ubiquitous merch, snacks, and campus boards there’s a sole product that separates one climbing gym from another… the climbs themselves.

Since opening its doors in 2002 as the first bouldering exclusive gym in the country, The Spot has taken pride in its routesetting and has constantly strived to stay at the top. As the push towards mainstream climbing continues we don’t plan to stray from this pursuit. But, as climbing grows, so does the number of challenges.

Climbing gyms have to serve a wildly diverse audience. Gym owners and routesetters have to consider a variety of potential clientele. You have the old school tryhards who want climbing that mimics the outdoors so they can train in the offseason and send their projects. You have youth teams that want competition style climbing, with run-and-jumps, dynos, power moves, and intricate and creative beta to practice on-sighting for comps. Then there are the gym rats who spend so much time on your walls they get bored with the new set after the first two days. And last but not least, there are the newcomers who have never put their foot in a climbing shoe and want approachable, safe, fun climbs that are within their skill level but don’t feel like the ladder they climb to clean their gutters. Ultimately, setting for such a wide cast of climbers can prove to be a challenge. It turns out that setting for a 6’3” power climber while considering the 5’2” crimp master is difficult. And while there is an argument to made that not every single climb can or should be sent by every single body type, there’s incentive to strive for just that. There’s only so many square feet of wall in a gym so more inclusivity makes for a friendlier user experience.

It’s important to recognize that this diversity contributes to what makes climbing such a truly awesome experience to so many people. Climbing with friends that have different bodies than you is half of what makes this sport so exciting. Seeing new ways to take down a climb, figuring out your own way up the wall, and not being limited to having a climbing partner with exactly your height, reach, and body type is a large part of what makes this sport so personally rewarding and unique to each individual. This is why a good setter tries hard to think about and accommodate every type of climber. As the industry continues to grow, gyms that can consistently produce this type of setting will see more success.

Boulder has been a climbing mecca for so long that we’ve been spoiled with the luxury of choice in climbing gyms for years. Not so for a large part of the country. Many people across the country have a single choice of local gym, if they have a local gym at all. And if they want to train indoors they have to spend their time there whether the sets are fun or not. But that’s changing. The gyms with the best climbing will quickly stand out. Climbing gyms are different than conventional gyms in that new equipment and fancy treadmills aren’t enough to entice new members. The beauty of climbing gyms, as opposed to conventional gyms, is that they provide a dynamic, subjective experience. It changes with each visit. It engages your brain. It encourages social interactions. It’s fun. The massive industry growth combined with the subjectivity of routesetting is transforming what was once a paid hobby into a professional craft with individuals seeking to learn, improve, and develop their skills to be the best. Routesetting is a commodity that will be the difference in making or breaking the success of gyms both new and old.

With all of this in mind, we will continually try and improve on the climbing that The Spot has already been masterfully cultivating for fifteen years. In an effort to stay ahead of the pack, we are asking YOU, the customer, what you would like to see from your routsetting. That means we always want feedback from you. How are we doing? What do you think of the climbs and what would you like to see more of? Ultimately, we’re setting for you, and we want to get better at what we do in order to improve your climbing experience. Feedback is always welcome and wanted. As this blog develops we hope it will provide quality insight into the routesetting world: the process, the challenges, and the fun. We want to show you what we do, why we do it, and how we hope it benefits you. Check out our Instagram if you want to stay in touch and see more.

-Chris

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Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. September 18, 2018 at 4:30 pm

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