What do in-person events look like during the pandemic recovery?

CWA Blog,

During a recent CWA Community Call, our members discussed some of the problems and solutions around hosting in-person climbing competitions and events. Getting back to large group gatherings is far off in many areas of the world, but we still need to provide a sense of community and fun for members, potential new customers, and athletes.

We focused our session on first describing some of the problems facing gyms who are trying to bring these events back, and then we brainstormed different solutions to the challenges. In each brainstorming phase we looked at the positive marketing and growth opportunities, some of the technical solutions to social distancing and capacity issues, and creative solutions to provide similar experiences to traditional events. At the end of the session we chatted about alternative event types that could involve local partners, focus on members, or involve your entire community.


You may have guessed some of the key problems a gym faces hosting a competition in the current environment. Social distancing, capacity, and risk management are big headline problems that face all areas of gym operations. Competitions, however, have some unique considerations such as travel, sponsorship, judging, isolation areas, and audience ambience. The gyms on our call had some great ideas about how to mitigate these risks, and, in some ways, make their events even better!

Competition Formats
  • Multi-day competition with time slots allowing for cleaning between time slots
  • Individually paced competition over a week or more
  • Create an isolated area for the competition to take place and film competitors without an audience, similar to the NBA or soccer
Routesetting Considerations
  • More of the gym could be used for comp routes than events with an audience
  • Consider grading differently if only liquid chalk is allowed
  • Routes may need more spacing than normal to maintain social distancing
Marketing Opportunities
  • With multi-day events, build FOMO after the event starts and make signups available longer
  • Climbing presents a socially distant, contact-free way to engage in competitive sports. Can be a great alternative to many of the contact sports that have been cancelled
  • Video creation opportunity for at-home competition training
  • Present logos from sponsors for online scoresheets/leaderboard

Climbing Leagues

Leagues are a great way to keep climbers engaged over a long period of time. They are also a great way to help facilitate new connections and build community when people can’t be together in person. The members on this Community Call had some excellent ideas on ways that leagues could help promote gym member participation and deeper friendships.

How to Create Teams
  • Create virtual meeting rooms for people to self-select
  • Gyms can put teams together based on the climber’s availability and schedule
  • Drafting based on self-made profiles with silly questions
  • Through a registration page, people can join with a team or as a "Free Agent." Teams are created this way in many other sports and recreational leagues
How to Score League Competitions
  • White board in the gym with team names
  • Scoring can be completely customized using apps
  • Bonus points for climbing in the morning or reduced points for peak hours
  • Weighted scoring, using a VMAX score to keeping things even
League Formats
  • Multi-month leagues based on total climbs
  • Digital platforms allow you to run ongoing leagues, or one every 4 weeks
  • Bi-annual - summer/winter or spring/fall (one could be indoor, another possible outdoor)
Marketing Opportunities
  • Leagues can organize around a system board, the Moon Board, or the Kilter Board
  • Market as a way to get back into shape (undo "quarantine 15")
  • Use a digital platform to save time and energy
  • Create a space to allow for "quarantine buddies" to form and keep each other motivated to stay fit
  • Charge for league participation to help bring back some revenue or use as a member retention tool

Other Events

On this call some of the owners and managers had excellent ideas on new types of events that could bring in extra income or help your local community and your climbing community.

What events can involve local partners?
  • Sponsored routes in the gym. Everyone who climbs this route is entered in a drawing for some donated swag
  • Charity fundraisers for community organizations (virtual raffle/auction)
  • Home school group PE programs
  • Climb-a-mile type comps where people can get sponsors for the distance they climb in a certain timeframe
What events can involve the whole community?
  • Outdoor or drive-in movie night
  • Climbing Bingo. Hand out cards to be turned in at the end of the week for prizes
  • Live music outside, if you have the outdoor space
  • Gear-centered events: something like a shoe donation to gyms in need
  • Using outdoor space, set up tables and a small wall to get other companies involved
What events are best for members only?
  • Long-form events that run over weeks or months
  • Outdoor climbing tour with staff
  • Gear/clothing swaps
  • Trivia, photo contest, live performances, virtual happy hours, and Netflix parties

There are a number of event types that can help keep your members excited and maintaining their membership. If you market these programs correctly and connect with the needs of your community, you may even be able to get some new members regardless of your capacity limitations. The long-term prospects for climbing are excellent and now is the time to find the events, programs, and features that resonate with your customers!

About the Author

Garnet Moore is the Interim Executive Director at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, serving gyms, manufacturers, and many climbing friends and partners.