When incorporating a ropes course or climbing wall into your program, it is important that you use the same due diligence in regards to risk management that you would for other program areas such as aquatics, target sports, and equestrian. This is true whether you are building and operating your own facilities or using a public provider of facilities and program. The challenge course industry as a whole is moving toward standardization of best practices of construction and operations. Being aware of these trends will help you select a builder and/or trainer for your challenge courses.
In the past, challenge course builders “borrowed” the hardware and installation practices of utility companies when constructing challenge courses. As the challenge course industry has developed, builders have recognized that the stresses on construction material in a ropes course application are very different from a utility application. The technology of ropes course and climbing tower construction has developed into a distinct body of knowledge. As a result two things have happened. First, standards of application for utility company materials, such as cables and poles, have been customized for ropes course and climbing tower structures. Evaluations of soil type, course layout, and many other factors now allow for site-specific installation to provide the greatest margin of safety. Second, hardware specific to ropes course and climbing tower applications has been created.
If you are considering hiring a vendor to build your course and train your staff, one place to begin finding a builder/trainer is the Association of Challenge Course Technology (ACCT). If you are considering hiring a company not affiliated with ACCT, you may want to check to be sure that the company meets ACCT’s Professional Vendor requirements. Finally, if you choose to build and operate your own courses, you should consult your insurance agent and attorney before you begin construction.
American Camping Association standards address topics such as inspections, supervision, operating procedure, equipment storage, and staff skill verification in regards to your ropes course and climbing towers. ACA requires that qualified personnel inspect courses annually.
The Association of Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) is an excellent camp resource for installation and operation of ropes courses and climbing towers. ACCT Level 3 and Level 4 Vendor Members across the country have demonstrated training and experience in the installation and operation of ropes courses and climbing towers. For more information and a list of these vendors, go to the ACCT Web site, www.acctinfo.org.
This Web site contains a set of standards that details common and recommended practices in challenge course construction, inspection, and operations — if you are considering installing and operating your own course.
For more information on ACA Standards, refer to Accreditation Standards for Camp Programs and Services, 1998 edition, and review the standards for Program Adventure Challenge (PC).
Originally published in the 2003 Winter issue of The CampLine.