Fact-Checking Magnus Midtbø’s Auto Belay Claims

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Image courtesy of Head Rush Technologies
Image courtesy of Head Rush Technologies

Last week, professional climber Magnus Midtbø released a video on his popular YouTube channel profiling a new gym that he is opening in Kristiansand, Norway. The gym resides in a building that formerly housed a kids indoor adventure park with 57-foot-walls, ropes courses, a few climbing walls, and other features. While touring the space in the video, Midtbø noted a collection of TRUBLUE auto belays that appear to have remained in the facility as leftovers from the kids adventure park. Stopping at one auto belay, Midtbø said, “There are a lot of accidents with the TRUBLUEs.” Midtbø went on to assert that “people actually start climbing without being clipped in,” and explained how another gym that he owns, in Oslo, opted to make its auto belay gate larger, “so that people wouldn’t start climbing without being clipped in.”

It was Midtbø’s specific citing of “a lot of accidents” in regards to the TRUBLUE brand that made us at CBJ curious to dig deeper. So, we promptly reached out to Chris Koske, the Vice President of Marketing at Head Rush Technologies, which owns TRUBLUE, to check the validity of Midtbø’s statement (comments begin at 00:05:58 in the video below).

“With all due respect to Magnus, I think it was a flippant comment,” Koske told CBJ. “While we are aware of climbers free soloing and falling on rare occasion, to say that auto belays are dangerous is preposterous.”

Koske offered some statistics, saying that there are over 1 billion climbs on TRUBLUE auto belays per year around the world, and that there are more than 30,000 TRUBLUE auto belay devices currently “in the field,” meaning at gyms, adventure parks, and other climbing walls in more than 60 countries. “Proper signage, orientation and operational precautions are necessary with our product, just like any other orientation to a climbing facility,” Koske added.

TRUBLUE also happens to be the only auto belay tested to meet the European CE (EN 341:2011 Class 1A) standards, according to Koske; without such designation, a product can be removed from the European Union market. And Koske pointed out that TRUBLUE devices are tested to 10-times the requisite CE standard. Such certifications are posted on the TRUBLUE/Head Rush Technologies website.

 

Yet, aside from the TRUBLUE brand, specifically, would it be accurate to say that there are a lot of accidents with auto belays, in general?

In a word, no. At the Climbing Wall Association Summit last year, representatives from the athletics insurance company Monument Sports gave a presentation in which climbing incidents were broken down according to the various climbing disciplines: While bouldering accounted for 77 percent of the total reported incidents for a period of time that spanned 2014-2018, auto belays accounted for only 5 percent. (Top rope climbing also accounted for 5 percent, and lead climbing accounted for 7 percent.)

To be clear, CBJ’s overarching intention here is not to “call out” Midtbø. It was obviously a passing comment and CBJ’s inquiry should not be taken as a personal affront. But at the same time, Midtbø’s video currently has more than 300,000 views, meaning that a lot of people have been informed by it. CBJ feels an obligation to seek truth, accuracy, and clarification whenever climbing industry statistics are being cited.