Is the proliferation of indoor climbing walls a good or a bad thing?

One of the things I love about climbing is its variation. From venues to styles, climbing doesn’t let you get bored. So when I talk about the rapid expansion in the number of climbing walls seen in the last few years, you would believe that I would be happy. Indeed I am, this proliferation means I can go and play on many new angles, meet new people and never be too far from a wall. However, it comes with a hint of scepticism as well. Can this expansion be sustained?

In 2013 we saw the campaign for Climbing to be included in the 2020 Olympic Games. Putting aside that, at the forefront of this push, was speed climbing, it saw an increase in interest in the UK, not only from participants, but from people wishing to invest in this potentially expanding market. With this, came a small but unfortunately short lived boom of centres opening or expanding, cut short by the news that Climbing would not be an Olympic sport. The increasing numbers, however, did not stop; it just slowed and new walls continue to pop up all round the country. Let’s take Sheffield for example, the UK’s Outdoor capital city. The last five years has seen expansion of some walls, opening of National performance centres and closing of walls. So in a city that saw the first indoor wall open nearly 25 years ago and therefore has the longest history, can we use Sheffield as a microcosm for the industry? Will we see the strong get stronger and the smaller walls stagnate and disappear? Or will we see competition at its best and the small walls maintain more of the personality/specialisation, that large walls lose? With the professionalisation of an industry, many routes can be taken, and the personalities of the decision makers all to often decide the paths to be taken. Lets hope the playground mentality doesn’t prevail and the smaller centres can create their own unique products and experiences to add to the diversity of the UK’s climbing experience. Stability breeds stagnation, stagnation breeds boredom, boredom leads to the devils work!!!


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