Every climbing gym business that has ever existed has been powered in no small part by routesetters. If climbing routes are the primary products that climbing gyms offer, then setters are the rock stars ensuring the show goes on. Skilled and often charismatic, diverse yet sharing similar dedication to their craft, setters working hard behind the wrench set our businesses up for success and set the stage for community building. Their routes make us better climbers, and their friendship makes us better people.
When I started routesetting, there was no career path for a setter. We volunteered our labor for the love of it or received a modest minimum wage. Now, setters can receive certification of their expertise, obtain a full-time salary with health benefits at some gyms, and progress from part-time positions to Head Setter jobs in gyms and Chief Setter roles for elite competitions, at-home and abroad.
Yet for all the progress made in an industry that has grown up, there’s still a long way to go. 70 percent of setters responding to a 2019 survey cannot make a living from setting alone. This was before the pandemic. Like so many gym staff during the last year, setters have been significantly impacted by the pandemic crisis. It’s on us to help. Gyms, tell your members how their dues keep setters working; and homewallers, consider investing in setting consults. Prioritizing setters is always a priority worth setting.
Beginning next month, we will be starting a new series called Ask A Setter to assist those in the routesetting world that may be finding their way in a new environment, unsure of how best to approach a specific aspect of their work, or are just curious about someone else’s opinion when it comes to a certain part of our industry. We hope this new series helps in a small way as you continue building your career and honing your skillset.
We’re fortunate to be able to work with Louie Anderson as our resident expert in this area. Similar to our Ask A Lawyer series, these articles will respond to questions and topics that you suggest and send in. If you aren’t familiar with Louie and his impact on the indoor climbing world, allow me to introduce you to my longtime friend and mentor.
Louie has been climbing since 1974, having been introduced to the sport through his father. In the years since, he’s been involved in just about every pursuit that is a part of the climbing world. His work in our industry began in 1980, when he first began to do that thing we now call routesetting. After four years or so of this, he began shaping artificial climbing holds. Fast forward to 2021 and Louie now may be the most prolific climbing hold shaper ever, with over 14,000 designs produced commercially for a wide variety of companies around the world. This is a passion that he continues to this day, having shaped over 500 shapes this winter.
He’s been a big proponent for education in the setting world, having written a book titled The Art of Coursesetting in 2004. That book was updated and re-released in 2014 under the new title, Fundamentals of Routesetting. (It was my privilege to write the competition organization section of these books with Louie). He also acts as an administrator for online setting groups, and leads custom setting courses around the world.
Aside from this, Louie has designed and built climbing gyms for 25 years and continues to be very involved as an industry professional, providing a range of consulting services for new and existing gyms. In 2012, he and his wife opened a large bouldering gym called The Factory Bouldering. They sold that business in July of 2020, and Louie’s setting these days is done on a freelance basis. You can find out more about the services he offers or purchase his setting book at louieandersonclimbing.com.
Scott has been promoting indoor climbing since 1997 when he bought Climb Time of Cincinnati and started what would become the American Bouldering Series. Since then he has helped hundreds of small businesses grow including climbing gyms and manufacturers. Scott is the owner and publisher of CBJ, and is available for projects through Reach Climbers. In his free time he still scours nearby hills for fresh boulders, skis all year, and is a dedicated father.