Newsletter Articles

Climbing Wall Risk Management: Part 1

July 15, 2011

Jason Kurten, M.S.
Outdoor Adventure Coordinator
Director of Indoor Climbing Facility
Texas A&M University, College Station

Josh Norris, M.A.
Climbing and Adventure Education Coordinator
Adventure Leadership Institute
Oregon State University

Climbing Walls. Many, if not most of today’s colleges and university recreation centers feature one of these installations in some form. Whether it is a small bouldering wall tucked away in a corner or a free standing tower rising through the center of your building, these facility features pose an unique issue for managers. Through the 1980’s, the climbing wall industry historically lacked consolidation and standardization. Facilities were built in areas where outdoor climbing was popular and they provided a place where these outdoor adventurers could practice their craft in a controlled environment. Today we see these installations in YMCA’s and university recreation centers, and run as commercial operations – even in areas devoid of any outdoor rock climbing opportunities. This article is the first in a two part series. Part I will focus on physical facilities by covering three topics: Published Guidelines, Documentation, and finally Facility Risks and Inspections. Part II will focus on Employee Training, Climber Instruction and Competency. Read more

Climbing Wall Risk Management: Part 2

July 14, 2011

Employee Training, Participant Instruction and Competency

Jason Kurten, M.S.
Outdoor Adventure Coordinator
Director of Indoor Climbing Facility
Texas A&M University, College Station

Josh Norris, M.A.
Climbing and Adventure Education Coordinator
Adventure Leadership Institute
Oregon State University

This article is the second of a two part series devoted to risk management for artificial climbing walls. The first part of the article dealt with the physical facility. This article will focus on the human element involved in the sport. As many of us know from our larger recreation facilities, the human element can often be the most difficult to manage and sometimes the hardest to predict. However, once the physical facility is secured, the single most important way to mitigate risk in climbing walls is to develop a process to address human errors and issues, both in our employees and our patrons. In developing this process, the areas to focus on include: the concept of Demonstrated Competence and its application to both the skill instruction and testing of our patrons and the training and testing of our employees. Read more

Medical Screening of Participants

July 14, 2011

Are you ready (or able) to do this?

Ian McGregor, Ph.D.
Ian McGregor & Associates Inc.

If someone suffers a heart attack while participating in one of your programs, the courts may ask whether the participant was medically screened before participation. In other words, what attempts were made to determine whether the person was medically fit to participate?

Although it may not be practical or even reasonable to medically screen all participants, there may be some programs where it might be wise to determine if there are any medical reasons to exclude a participant. For example, taking a scuba class requires a medical examination by a physician, yet many fitness programs rely only on a simple screening tool such as the PAR-Q (Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire). Is this a reasonable approach, or should certain high-risk participants in fitness programs (e.g. seniors) also be required to be screened by their physician prior to participation? Read more

What Will be the Significance of Going ‘Out of Bounds’

July 14, 2011

Shelley Timms, B.A., LL.B., LL.M.
Timshel Services Inc.
Alcohol Risk Management
Timshel@timshelservices.com

During the winter season of 2009, there were a number of avalanche tragedies in Western Canada. Most, if not all, of them could have been avoided with the use of common sense and in some cases, proper preparation. However, one tragedy garnered more publicity due to the sequence of events surrounding the incident. A Quebec couple skied under the tape at Kicking Horse Resort, and skied out of bounds. They became lost and were not found until 9 days later and sadly, the wife had died largely due to hypothermia. What happened between the time they skied under the tape and when they were found is now being investigated and will be seen through a microscope as a result of the lawsuit that was filed by the survivor shortly thereafter.

Apparently, after the couple descended the slope they were near the Columbia River, and quickly realized that they were lost. They attempted to follow the river but chose the wrong way which took them farther from help rather than closer. At one point, they marked out “SOS” in the snow which was seen by back country skiers on the second day and reported to the local Search and Rescue Group. This group, like other search and rescue groups is made up of volunteers, and though highly trained, they cannot simply go out and search and rescue without authority from police and the Provincial Emergency Programme. The resort was contacted but there was nothing to indicate that anyone was missing. There is a dispute as to who was to call the RCMP, the person reporting the SOS sighting or the search and rescue group, but the RCMP was not contacted. As a result, no search and rescue was conducted. Read more

Outdoor Recreation Programs: Contract Out or Keep in House?

July 14, 2011

Jim Fitzsimmons
Director of Campus Recreation
University of Nevada, Reno

With just over 20 years in the outdoors industry in both the private sector and college/university setting I have experienced both sides of this equation. The request to research this topic came at the same time my university was making a significant change concerning its outdoor recreation program. The two dovetailed nicely and while many readers may disagree with the findings and the eventual outcome, it is an example to learn from.

For the past decade, the program at UNR was ‘home-grown’ and operated exclusively in-house. Everything from instructors to equipment, permits and transportation was owned and operated by the program. We held commercial permits for rafting, kayaking and climbing. Class offerings included white water guide school, wilderness skills, sea and white water kayaking, rock climbing, mountaineering, nordic and alpine skiing, snow boarding, fly fishing, wilderness first aid, swift water rescue, rafting and level one avalanche certification. All instructors were certified though national organizations and we followed accepted industry standards for all programs. While all courses were offered both for credit and on a non-credit basis, the University did not offer a degree in the discipline of Outdoor Recreation or anything remotely related. Depending upon the semester and course offerings, participation swung between a peak of 1,200 students and a low of 300. In an average year, the program would offer field trips about 25 weekends per year. Read more

Selecting the Best Belay System for your Program

July 14, 2011

Michael Doyle, Assistant Director, Outdoor Recreation
Michael Phaneuf, Assistant Director, Challenge Course
Campus Recreation Services
University of Maryland, College Park

Climbing walls, ropes courses and adventure centers continue to grow in popularity and are more accessible than ever before. They are no longer just found at summer camps, university recreation centers and secluded retreat centers. By the time first year students arrive on your campus, they will most likely have participated in a ropes course as part of a class field trip or climbed a rock wall while on a cruise ship, or even climbed a portable, pop-up structure while attending a minor league baseball game. Today, climbing structures attract different user groups, have different purposes (recreation or education), and are funded and staffed based on user groups and program purpose/mission. One of the most critical decisions to be made when building an adventure facility such as a climbing wall or ropes course is which belay system to use. With the growth of the industry, technological advancements have been made to make climbing and belaying easier on participants and staff alike.
Read more

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