Improvements in the safety of padded flooring systems have greatly reduced the prevalence of bouldering accidents at indoor climbing facilities, yet falls in the bouldering area remain one of the primary sources of bodily injuries in climbing gyms. While some of these injuries are a result of risky behavior or poor choices, there are a sizable number that are a direct result of climbers not knowing how to fall properly.
These preventable accidents are the target of required fall training used by at least two facilities in America. One of those facilities, Rocks and Ropes in Tucson, Arizona introduced a Gymnastic Fall Orientation (GFO) in 2012 when they opened their second location, a bouldering-only facility.
Luke Bertelsen, General Manager of Rocks and Ropes, said in an email interview, “The orientation includes a review of our facility rules, safe bouldering protocol (do’s and don’ts of where you may sit or stand when you are not climbing), and a very hands-on fall orientation where we explain and demonstrate proper fall technique for our facility with our flooring system.”
During the GFO staff demonstrate proper falling technique, and then observe and provide feedback as participants practice falling. Staff also provide an orientation to the gym’s rating system, which includes not only a v-grade for difficulty, but one of three fall ability ratings: Everyone, Trained, and Highball.
Rocks and Ropes’ owner, Jason Mullins, told CBJ that the idea of requiring a fall orientation was born out of a conversation with Timmy Fairfield and Ernest Coletta, from Futurist Climbing, who installed the padded flooring system at the BLOC. At first Mullins didn’t think the idea would fly with the climbing community. “I thought it was going to be a tough sell, but after development and putting it into place it made perfect sense,” said Mullins.
Bertelsen feels that the system makes sense because many climbers don’t recognize the importance of proper falling technique, and haven’t developed that skill along with their climbing technique. “It is easy to recognize right off the bat that most people’s climbing ability far outweighs their ability to fall properly. As climbers I think we take it for granted the coordination required to fall safely, so we can get back up and climb again,” Bertelsen said.
Rocks and Ropes requires all climbers that enter the facility for the first time to take the orientation, for which they charge $12. When they introduced this new policy they did receive some pushback from the community, but overall it has been a success.
“Initially we encountered quite a bit of resistance. We have since had some of those folks come back to us and tell us that they had no idea how much it would help them save their knees, back, etc,” Bertelsen said. However he added, “From time to time we still have people that think it is totally useless, but that will likely always exist.”
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