Conference Sessions | CWA Summit 2019

 2017 Climbing Wall Summit

Conference Sessions


Thursday, May 18

7:00 – 8:15pm
Welcome, Keynote Address and Award Presentation

This session will kick off the Summit with a short welcome and award presentation from Bill Zimmermann, CEO of the CWA, and a captivating keynote address by Erik Weihenmayer.


Erik Weihenmayer is one of the most celebrated and accomplished athletes in the world. In 2001, he became the only blind person in history to climb Mount Everest and all of the Seven Summits - the tallest peak on each of the seven continents. His latest book is an exploration of the light that burns in all of us, the obstacles that threaten to extinguish that light, and the treacherous ascent towards growth and rebirth.

Friday, May 19

8:30 – 9:45am
Why Being Average Isn't Good Enough - Take Your Customer Service to the Next Level

Presenter: Jason Yeager

In this session you will learn how to take the next step in your business by understanding the importance of making customer service a primary focus. The companies who excel in this area are those that dominate their industries, time and time again.

How to Finance Your Business

Presenter: Paul Bosley

The first half of the seminar will teach participants how to prepare for underwriting. The second half of the seminar will teach participants the various commercial financing options available.



  • To teach participants how to prepare for underwriting

  • To teach participants the various commercial financing options available

  • To offer a question and answer session to address individual concerns

How to Prevent the 10 Most Common Climbing Injuries

Presenter: Jared Vagy

You will learn how to identify and prevent the ten most common climbing injuries. These include belayer's neck, shoulder impingement, rotator cuff strain, lateral elbow pain, medial elbow pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, triceps tendonitis, biceps tendonitis, pulley sprain and collateral ligament sprain. You will learn a proven 4 step process called the "Rock Rehab Pyramid" that will guide you through the process of rehabilitating and preventing these injuries. Includes videos of the step by step process with professional climbers Sasha DiGiulian and Jonathan Siegrist.



  • Learn a proven 4 step process called the "Rock Rehab Pyramid" to prevent and rehabilitate the 10 most common rock climbing injuries

  • Be able to apply these principals in your gym to help prevent overuse climbing injury

Rental Shoes, Retention and Retail - How to Turn a Perceived Cost into an Asset

Presenter: Bryan Hylenski

Rental shoes are a large re-occuring expense; or at least that is what we all have come to think. We will begin speaking about all the issues current gym owners face regarding rental shoes. We will explore the subject in all facets and get to the bottom of turning the commonly thought of expense, into an income producing asset. We've run the numbers, and know the rental shoe market very well and we'd like to share what we've found.

Goals: The primary goal of this session is to show gym owners that rental shoes are no longer an "expense." Rental shoes are an asset. 

  1. Rental shoes can earn more than 20x their original investment, every 6 months.

  2. Learn how to work with other gyms to develop custom shoes or partnerships to increase volume and lower costs.

  3. Increase customer retention, by providing a premium quality shoe, that is comfortable and NOT painful for their new customers. A customer in pain is not going to come back.

  4. Demonstrate how they can market their gym through simply branding on the shoe.

  5. Be re-sold, recycled or re-used within your local community. Thus, providing subtle marketing opportunities, social outreach and much needed interaction with the local community.

  6. How to properly purchase rental shoes, common sizes and proper quantities of each based on region, gym size and expected new visits per month.

Ohio's Climbing Statute: A Better Model for Regulation

Presenter: Matt Roberts

In Ohio, as in many other states, the climbing gym industry has resisted attempts to be regulated as amusements. After opening a new facility in 2014, the regulators came calling. Over the course of the following two years, five gyms in Ohio charted a path that might serve as an agreeable middle ground. Drawing on the help of the CWA, lawyers and lobbyists, Ohio has now added recreational climbing to the list of activities with its own governing law, requiring basic care from operators, and offering the industry enhanced liability protection. Learn how we made this happen, what we learned along the way, and tips for implementing in your state.

10:00 – 11:15am
The What and the How of Growing a Successful Business

Presenters: Eddie Tock and Will Phillips

Based on Rex Roundtables experience coaching over 120 small businesses over 3 decades, they will discuss 10 critical areas for your attention:










  • A LIFE


How To Make Good Decisions in These 10 Areas

  1. Know your blind spots.

  2. Why your decisions need to be better.

  3. Develop a team of skilled thinkers with experience to support those decisions.


It turns out that the vast majority of literature and seminars about how to manage a business are all based on about 75 huge public companies like Disney, the Ritz, GE, GM, and Amazon. A good deal of this management and leadership information is fine, but there are critical flaws when we talk about a privately held business and/or a small business. REX has worked for over 30 years discovering from its small clients what these insights include.


REX™ RoundTables for Executives is the premier process for executives who want to improve the performance of their organization and the quality of their life. REX brings non competing CEOs of leading companies in the same industry together on a regular basis to learn from each other and from our experienced chairs. Each Roundtable of approximately 14 CEOs meets three times a year. The group shares successes, solves problems, challenges and supports one another. This is best practices in action. REX Roundtables do not focus on average industry performance but looks at the top ten or twenty percent. Roundtables now operate in several industries, more are being added each year. REX RoundTable members are all executives, usually the one who owns or heads up the organization although some round tables consist of senior executives who report to the leader of the organization. We serve a mix of non-profit institutions and for-profit businesses. The REX community is committed to supporting one another professionally and personally.

1:30 – 2:45pm
The Emerging Work World in the Participation Age

Presenter: Chuck Blakeman

The Industrial Age is over, but its dehumanizing culture and business practices still dominate the front office. Concepts like manager, employee, trading time for money, separating work and play, vacation time, office hours, an addiction to benefits, and other Industrial Age diseases still plague the business world, suppressing Growth, Profitability, and Longevity.

Imagine companies where:

  • People require very little management

  • Employee turnover is exponentially lower 

  • Employees become committed Stakeholders in Self-Managed Work Teams

  • Policy manuals are replaced with a few written Beliefs and Principles

  • People Make Meaning, not just money, and a lot more of both

  • Re-Humanizing the Workplace is a company-wide practice, not a department


Get clarity on:

  • Why the management practices we inherited from the Factory System are destructive

  • Why the emerging work world will be built around The Participation Age

  • Why we must replace employees with Stakeholders, and managers with Leaders

  • Why Participation Age leadership creates faster growth, higher profits, and more longevity

  • How to become a Participation Age Company


This isn’t a fringe idea or experimental. Many companies have worked this way for up to 50 years. We’ll profile some for you. And a growing tidal wave of companies are moving in this direction. In a few years, the Participation Age office will be commonplace. Those who embrace the Participation Age will thrive, those who don’t will be left behind.


Proof: We have done this with many organizations and can point you to many companies of five to 10,000 Stakeholders with no managers, no employees, no written policies, no office hours (even in manufacturing facilities); where everyone is self-organized.  These are the most profitable, stable and most sought after places in the world to work and are the perfect example of true “Leadership”.

Economics in the Time of Trump

Presenter: Matt Roberts


The election of Donald Trump took many by surprise, and regardless of what your hashtag says, he is the POTUS until 2020. In this session, Dr. Matt Roberts, economist and gym owner, will lay out possible scenarios for the country under Trump, and what that will mean for gym owners.


Specifically, Dr. Roberts will address the effects on interest rates, employment, real estate prices, disposable income, and the regulatory environment, and how these will shape the next leg of the indoor (and outdoor!) climbing scene.



  • Understand economic risks to climbing gym owners, including interest rates and disposable income outlook for the next 2 years.

  • Understand how and why various scenarios of a Trump administration could affect the economic climate.

What the Courts are Telling Us

Presenter: Reb Gregg


Referring to recent law suits, reported cases and other events we will discuss:  the gym's duty of care to its visitors, including special activities and remote sites; Visitor Agreements, including issues of scope, forgeries, and duration; special issues of dealing with minors; and contracting with visiting groups, independent contractors and others. Active participation by the audience is encouraged.



  • To alert gym managers and others to recent developments in the law pertinent to their operations, so they can better serve visitors to the gym and protect themselves from claims.

An Untapped Market – High School Climbing Leagues

Presenter: Andy Miers


Due to the nature of the sport, rock climbing has many barriers to entry. With the public’s awareness of the sport on the rise, indoor climbing facilities can capitalize on this opportunity; making climbing more accessible to the masses through tailored programming that targets specific demographics. When targeting the high school demographic, most gyms do not extend much past their in-house, competitive climbing teams, which cater only to experienced climbers. This strategy completely neglects the beginner climber, a much larger population, that would be interested in climbing and become a gym member, if only they had an easy, appropriate, and accessible means of entry. In this session, we’ll discuss the structure of Adventure Rock’s high school climbing team program, membership pricing, marketing strategies, etc., and how the program grew from 3 schools and 40 student members to over 22 schools and 400 student members.

Data Climbing: Applying Modern Computer Science to Route Setting and the Climbing Industry

Presenter: Charles Lombardi


This session will propose new ways to look at routes and member interactions with them.  We will examine how to use individualized rating data to increase member enjoyment and loyalty; discussing ways to use this information to learn more about what makes one route enjoyable to some members, and disliked by others. The proposed solution uses the current palette of route terms, such as slopers, crimps, pinches and terms such as thuggy, smooth, and dynamic along with new descriptors and user specific data, with the express goal of answering; why one person's V2 choice is another one's V3 masterpiece, and how to get people on the routes that they will love. We will examine how the climbing gym industry might benefit from applying techniques such as data mining and computer recommendation engines to put people on routes that they want to be on and keep them coming back for more.

3:00 – 4:15pm
Best Practices for Using the Latest Rock Gym Pro Features:  Including the new Mobile App and Smartwaiver Integration

Presenter: Andy Laakmann


In this session, Andy will give a demonstration of the latest Rock Gym Pro feature updates, including the new RGP mobile app. Learn how your members can use their mobile device to quickly see class availability, book those classes with an online account and check-in with a digital barcode directly from their phone. You’ll also get the scoop on the new Smartwaiver + RGP integration. Discover how your gym can take advantage of a free Smartwaiver account, how to link those waivers directly to your RGP account and the benefits of using the free Smartwaiver system with RGP. Time will be provided at the end of the session for open Q&A.


  • Attendees will walk away from this session with an in depth understanding of how best to use the latest Rock Gym Pro updates at their facility.

Start Up Success: Learn the Essential Financial Steps to go from Dreamers to Doers

Presenter: Dustin Buckthal


Attendees of this session will get the insider info that can prepare your business for financial success well before you open your doors or even break ground on construction. This session will cover the essentials to getting your climbing gym funded, maintaining a tight budget, then opening your doors and executing on your operational /financial plan for ROI. If you have a dream of opening a climbing gym, it is important that you feel comfortable on the path to small business ownership. This session will get you familiarized with the conversations necessary to succeed.

Sales School: Increase Your Revenues by Teaching Your Staff to Sell

Presenter: Shad Burnham


Every climbing gym has a dedicated staff that typically is already familiar with climbing and gear in some capacity. Tapping into that eager personnel and coaching them on how to talk to customers about products is something that can exponentially boost your sales revenue and make your business the go-to source for climbing and general outdoor enthusiast products. But how to teach them is something often not understood correctly. This highly audience-driven talk will review effective sales techniques for products as well as educational methods focused at your employees to transform front desk staff into incentivized sales-masters.

The Anatomy of a Lawsuit

Presenter: Reb Gregg


We will discuss the development of a law suit from the claim of loss to final judgment, including responding to the event, responding to the claim, responding to the suit, discovery (collecting of evidence), opportunities for resolving the dispute without trial, the trial, appeal and the final judgment. In the audience will be representatives of Monument Sports to serve as a resource to us on the important role of your insurance company in this process.

From New Hire to All Star Employee

Presenter: Chris Stevenson


Employees can make or break a facility.  In this session, learn how to ensure that your staff is making and not breaking the facility!  The key is having a high-functioning team, driven toward the same goal.  The presentation and interactive discussion will explore the five essential components for taking someone from a candidate to a highly engaged and productive team member.  Attendees will leave with tangible tools for implementing proper interview techniques and training protocols.  Attendees will also receive tips for recognizing and promoting peak employee performance, as well as how to do evaluations that actually reflect the company mission statement.  This presentation is perfect for owners, general managers or any department heads.



  • Five components of creating and leading an all-star team.

  • Understand the "why" and "what" of each component- know how to execute them

  • Tangible tips and tools as well as easy to implement action items


Saturday, May 20

8:30 – 9:45am
5 Things to Cover in Your Annual Marketing Plan

Presenter: Craig Randall

Marketing your business can be fun and profitable but many of us don't know where to start. How effective is social media? What is an ideal customer avatar?How important is "branding" to your business? Verde Brand Communications Integrated Services Director Craig Randall will offer advice on these questions and much more, drawing from the agency's extensive work helping brands tell their story to customers inside and out of the core outdoor sports environment. Craig will draw from Verde's "digital-first" PR and marketing strategies. 

Conflict Resolution in a Relational Work Model

Presenter: Tiffany Paino


This session is for managers and supervisors who oversee staff. Together we will identify factors in the climbing community that contribute to the unique work environments at climbing facilities and talk about how to establish objective parameters and policies to help prevent employee conflict. The goal will then be to learn and practice effective methods for facilitating conflict resolution with staff members while understanding the importance of timeliness and documentation when addressing conflict scenarios.



  • Identify community and relational factors that contribute to the unique work environments at climbing facilities

  • Establish objective parameters and policies that help prevent employee conflict

  • Learn effective methods for facilitating conflict resolution with staff members

  • Understand the importance of timeliness and documentation when addressing staff conflict

Claims: Lessons Learned

Presenters: Mark Grossman, Will Jorgensen and Zach Morgan

Join us for a discussion on lessons learned from a variety of claim and injury scenarios. We will discuss topics such as: preventing a claim (risk management), living through the claim, and mitigation measures once a claim has transpired. We also will conduct a thorough review of coverage's offered and risk management assistance provided through the CWA Insurance program specifically tailored for climbing gyms and related businesses.


The CWA Insurance Program with Monument Sports is wrapping up its fourth year. Mark Grossman of Monument Sports will lead the discussion.

Diminishing Performance Anxiety for Recreational and Competition Climbers

Presenter: Arno Ilgner


Recreational and competitive athletes, alike, suffer from performance anxiety, which originates largely from focusing on what they can’t control. By shifting our focus to aspects they can control, they diminish anxiety, perform better, and enjoy climbing more.


We’ll outline our natural tendency to focus on what we can’t control, so we have an understanding of our current state. Then we’ll outline a more helpful focus that creates an optimal state with diminished anxiety. Finally, we’ll identify practices that help make this shift, which result in diminished anxiety, more effectiveness, and more overall enjoyment. This understanding gives coaches ways to instruct recreational and competition climbers when they feel anxious, stuck, and unable to make progress.


  • To understand what causes performance anxiety

  • To understand how to diminish performance anxiety

  • To have practices that diminish performance anxiety

Management Roundtable

Moderator: Bill Zimmermann


Do you own or manage a climbing gym or a climbing wall? This annual round table discussion is for you. The purpose of this informal round table discussion is to address common issues faced by climbing gym owners and managers across the industry. This session is well-suited to those open to sharing information and providing feedback on operational practices, facility issues, and other concerns. Bill Zimmermann will facilitate this discussion and prime the pump with some questions for owners and managers to consider. We will also address questions as needed.

10:00 – 11:15am
Background and Overview of the New CWA Work-at-Height Standard

Presenters: Thomas Wedlick and Rick Vance

Climbing facility employees perform tasks, such as route setting, that might be considered “work-at-height”. This presentation motivates the need to consider relevant “work-at-height” safety requirements and reviews the newly developed CWA Work-at-Height Standard. The standard’s intent is to help employers develop managed work-at-height programs for climbing settings that comply with existing legal requirements. This includes identifying, evaluating, and controlling the risks and hazards related to work-at-height in a climbing facility by selecting appropriate systems and procedures. This overview presentation is not a substitute for the two-day “Work at Height for Qualified Persons” pre-conference workshop.

Retail in the Gym Environment: How to Work with Brands

Presenter: Mark Busby

Description under construction

The Future of Routesetting

Presenter: Nic Oklobzija

Most successful brands know to put the product first and the brand will follow. With the ever-changing gym market and each market getting more profitable and competitive, routesetting (the product) and routesetters are more important than ever. This session will take a look at some of the leading programs in North America and discuss possible solutions to the changing landscape of routesetting.

Designing Climbing Training Sessions for Groups and Individuals

Presenter: Steve Bechtel


This lecture will cover the design and implementation of training programs for individual athletes as well as groups and teams. Topics covered will include strength training, endurance training, and power training sessions as well as ideas on integrating weight training with climbing. Built on a series of proven and effective templates, these sessions will provide an effective training experience for athletes and will help coaches better manage their time.



  • The goal of this lecture is to provide coaches with a functional framework on which to build successful training sessions.

10 Paths for Increasing Profitability at Commercial Climbing Gyms

Presenter: Joel Graybeal


In this session, Joel will discuss the 10 ways to increase profitability at commercial climbing gyms.  We'll use specific examples of how gyms can increase sales, increase prices, and manage costs which when done together can dramatically improve your bottom line.



  • Raise awareness of the opportunities to increase revenue and trim expenses to drive profitability

  • Have participants walk out of the session with a "to do" list of immediate actions they can take that will have immediate financial impact to the business.

1:30 – 3:00pm
What Does It Mean to Be a Climber? Community, Culture, and the Future of our Sport – A panel discussion

Featuring Travis Herbert, Kynan Waggoner, Carlo Traversi, Nina Williams, Renee DeAngelis, Kevin Sturmer, and Ron Funderburke

The climbing gym industry is strong and growing. OIA statistics continue to show growth in the sport and in a recent OIA presentation, climbing was called "the new golf", whatever that means, showing 15.9% growth in climbing-related sales last year.


For the past several years the growth of the sport has been a hot topic brought up at conferences, in board rooms and on social and mainstream media. Depending on your perspective, this growth might seem like a threat or an opportunity, a force that brings the climbing community together or that drives us into factions.


As our sport continues to evolve we have an opportunity to shape what it means to be a climber now and into the future. How do our individual and collective actions influence climbing culture, community and what it means to be a climber?




©2019 Climbing Wall Association, Inc.


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