Climbing gym seeks improvement through revised policies, better student access
Nearly eight months after reopening, the campus climbing gym intends to reach new post-pandemic heights, co-directors say.
This article is featured in the 2022 Homecoming special issue.
Since the climbing gym’s reopening in February after a two-year closure, the gym’s student directors — with oversight from the Outdoor Programs Office — have revised policies to get the gym back to its pre-pandemic function, student director Steven Shin ’23 said. After the gym’s ventilation renovations and COVID-19 protocols were put in place last winter, climbing gym staff have created new policies to facilitate better employee and user experience.
Shin and fellow director Max Rosenfeld ’23 said the gym expanded its maximum capacity to 15 people on Oct. 6 after previously having hovered at 8 since the Jan. 24 reopening. He added that the gym has also created a route rating system and expanded outreach to student clubs and organizations.
Shin notes that the pandemic shutdown of the gym, coupled with its gradual reopening, meant that there simply weren’t many people climbing. The silver lining to this, though, was that the gym had a “hard reboot,” Shin said.
“As managers we’ve taken the opportunity to update some policies that have been coming for a while,” Shin said. “We’ve changed some stuff about setting and the way routes are set to better reflect the people who are climbing in the gym, who are largely beginners, while keeping the resources for more experienced climbers to train.”
Route-setting policies have also been improved so that they have more structure. Rosenfeld echoed Shin’s appreciation for being able to consult with other climbers on the routes’ difficulty levels.
In addition to changed policies, Rosenfeld and Shin have been taking on “physical projects” — or tasks which require some degree of manual labor — which have facilitated a more comfortable work environment.
“We’ve systematized our tools and maintenance and created storage to improve workflow for the employees,” Shin said. “Also, for the people in the gym, we’ve been setting [climbing routes] a little bit less densely and more monochromatically, which is a little bit more like what you’d see at a commercial gym.”
Climbing gym management has typically been passed down by word-of-mouth, from older to younger generations, Rosenfeld said. The string of new changes, however, have made student directors transition to official record-keeping, he added.
“Historically, being a climbing gym manager, you get passed knowledge from the manager before you,” Rosenfeld said. “What we’re trying to do now is make a ton of documents that detail all the knowledge we have so that the gym stays in good hands in the future.”
Charlie Morris ’25 uses the climbing gym recreationally but does not seek to do intense climbing on campus and beyond. Morris has noticed the impact of the new policies implemented this fall, citing the route system in particular. Route cards are placed at the start of each course, with difficulty grades and comments from other climbers, in an effort to help students of all experience levels.
“They changed the labeling and the grading system to make it more of a community-centered environment where you can write a review and grade it yourself as well as other people, so it makes you feel more involved even if you’re doing beginner climbs and can’t compete with the other climbers,” Morris said.
The recent increase in the climbing gym’s capacity has allowed more students to climb and has increased its accessibility, though the current signup system is still proving to be somewhat obstructive to getting people back in the gym. Students must sign up using Trailhead — the College’s online platform used to sign up for Dartmouth Outing Club trips — to reserve a one and a half hour slot. Trailhead’s registration system and the inability of students to schedule walk-in climbs is one of the reasons why climbers have been slow to return to the gym, Shin said.
“People don’t like to have to sign up for things in general,” Shin said. “Basically it’s made it a lot harder to get people into the gym and get new people into climbing.”
To combat this, members of the climbing team and mountaineering club, the latter of which is a sub-club of the DOC, have put in extra work to try to reach new people, Shin said. Most users of the gym come from these groups.
Olivia Pendas ’25, a gym monitor and climbing team manager, said that the gym’s capacity increase this term has been “huge” for increased training.
“The climbing gym's reopening has allowed me to return to my normal training routine as well as provided me with a space to meet new climbers and connect to the broader Dartmouth climbing community,” Pendas said.
In addition to the climbing team and mountaineering club, the climbing gym has been working to connect with People of Color Outdoors — an organization aimed at providing ways for “underrepresented groups” to find their places in the outdoors, according to the DOC website. In its partnership, the gym has hosted POCO climbing sessions. The climbing gym has also partnered with the Viva Hardigg Outdoors Club, which offers outdoor trips to people of marginalized gender identities, Rosenfeld said.
Shin added that “a good number of people who get into climbing come through some sort of DOC-related club…So those continue to be big.”
Katie Gazzini ’25, a gym employee and frequent climber, said the facility has become “a lot more beginner friendly,” since she started climbing there last year after the reopening. Gazzini said that the gym’s introduction of route information cards.
“As someone who was a new climber last year, those would have been really helpful things in my climbing journey,” Gazzini said. “I’m glad that they’re making an effort to do that.”