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Andrew Coffey on Reopening The Hive Climbing Gym

Owner of The Hive Climbing Gyms, Andrew Coffey, discusses his experience with reopening his facilities

As B.C. moves gradually through Phase Two of reopening, climbing gyms across the province have begun to open their doors. This weekend, we sat down with The Hive’s Andrew Coffey for a situation report on how his gyms are operating in this post-isolation world.

The reopening of climbing gyms in this era is challenging. There are the most apparent difficulties relating to the safety of community members and the more complex challenges in creating the “new-normal” for participant behaviour.

Preventative Measures

The Hive has taken great steps across all of their locations to ensure that their reopening runs without hiccups. Their first line of precautions is a comprehensive list of regulations and considerations  that each climber must familiarize themselves with before entering one of their three facilities. These new guidelines can be found here.

Over eight separate pages, and 28 frequently asked questions (FAQs), The Hive explores those issues that gyms across the country will have to face upon reopening. The eight sections include details relating to:

  • Existing Memberships
  • COVID-19 Era Rules for Climbers
  • Your Responsibilities as a Climber
  • Booking Your Climb Time
  • Entry and Check-In
  • Climbing and Exit Procedures
  • Updated Facility and Staff Regulations
  • Contact Tracing

The list is detailed and discusses everything from mandatory equipment to strategically spaced routesetting that gives individuals on-the-wall distance from one another. These regulations have been in place for a couple of weeks and have appeared to work well for both the facility and the community.

Coffey said, “The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone who is coming in is just psyched to be climbing. They are happy to be back and are accepting of the measures that we have put in place. There is a little bit of grumbling about a few small things, but for the most part everybody is just happy to be back and moving on the wall.”

Masks and Chalk

Some of these small things are fairly well summed by the inclusion of masks and liquid chalk as mandatory. The decisions to create these regulations, however, were created out of a consensus opinion. Said Coffey, “As a B.C. gym owners’ group, we all banded together and said ‘What can we all do? What can we all agree upon?’”

Though different gyms will have different regulations based on their location and general COVID-related traffic risks, The Hive’s highly trafficked environment lead Coffey to include masks and liquid chalk in their reopening. He noted that masks are not fun but he appreciates their usefulness. Coffey said, “Our staff is really appreciative of it. They know everyone that is coming in is wearing a mask.” Coffey relayed that everyone’s participation in the guidelines, staff and climber alike, has allowed for a sense of solidarity among the community members.

The inclusion of liquid chalk has had a similar response. Coffey said, “Liquid Chalk, from a gym owner’s perspective, has been phenomenal. We took the liquid chalk approach because we felt like anything that we do to reduce particulate matter in the air is going to help people with their respiration. It’s basically gone from the air.”

Coffey went on to say, “From the experience side of things it’s a bit different. It doesn’t quite give you the same experience as regular chalk. Some people are allergic to additives and resins that might be in there. Other people aren’t keen on the alcohol content that might be in some. We’ve just made sure that we have a broad spectrum of options for people. Friction Labs has an alcohol free one and we’ve got some of their basic Secret Stuff.”

Coffey noted that they are also carrying Flashed Liquid Chalk, and that people will likely climb through liquid chalk quicker than loose chalk. He also said that, “We’ve made it easy for people (to purchase liquid chalk), like if they are booking a session we say ‘Liquid chalk only, do you want to buy yours now over the phone?’ and then we have it ready in a little bag to give them.”

In terms of routesetting, loose chalk is still used, albeit sparingly, to pre-chalk the holds.

Facility Management

From a management standpoint, the facility has pursued a booking system for climbing. Each participant is allowed a two-hour session that they must be on time for and that ends with their time bloc. In this way, it is similar to pre-booked fitness classes. The various Hives have found their peak times booked solidly, while the less busy Surrey and North Shore locations are with relatively low traffic outside of those peak hours. Vancouver is relatively busy across most of their time-slots.

As there appears to be a little bit more space at the Surrey and North Shore locations, these locations will be moving into a rolling booking system as they enter their third phase of reopening. Coffey said “Every hour, on the hour, we will be adding 25 people and asking people to leave after their two-hour period.”

Among the other changes for Phase Three, or the week starting June 15, Coffey said, “There will be more sessions. Not too many more, but there are a few extra ones to make sure that we can maximize the number of people in the gym. We’re allowing drop-ins, which is new, so anyone that doesn’t have a membership or a punch-card will be able to come. The real big thing for next week is that we will be charging people again.”

However, not everyone will be charged again. Coffey described how the process for Phase Three will allow for memberships to remain frozen, though if a climber wishes to unfreeze their membership, they can. If you, as a member, are concerned that the experience will not be what you want it to be, you can keep your membership frozen and pay a late-night drop-in fee instead. This will be an option until the bulk-unfreezing of memberships takes place, though Coffey assured that this will not happen for a while yet, and members will be given plenty of notice.

Going Forward

Ultimately, reopening has gone well. Coffey said that, “By and large, the prep-work that we did really set us up for a smooth opening. The challenges are relatively minor compared to what we thought it would be.” With that said, the facility, and likely many facilities are facing legitimate financial issues. Coffey said, “We will need to ensure that the business can find ways to weather the storm until there is a vaccine.” He noted that if their revenue reflects their current capacity, their business is not financially sustainable.

With that said, Coffey asserted, “You can take reasonable measures to ensure that people are not bringing the virus to your gym. It does take a lot of prep work. You have got to be sure that you have done everything in advance. Community health has got to be top priority. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If our community isn’t healthy, there is nothing that can save us. Community health has to come first.”

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Welcome home 💚💙 (3/3) Key Changes Please read the FAQ (link in bio) on our website regarding the questions you may have on the following points and anything else touched on in this series. 💚 Reduced Capacity at all locations (50 people or less based on physical distancing) 💙 Climbing by reservation only (see booking info) 💚 Extensive cleaning between every session plus regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces during sessions 💙 Changerooms are closed – arrive ready to climb 💚 Minimal storage available, bring a lock (Surrey, Vancouver) or leave valuables at home 💙 Masks/face coverings (nose and mouth) are mandatory in the gym at all times for the foreseeable future 💚 New Waiver/Youth AOR Required (you will be prompted to complete it online during your booking, please complete before arrival) 💙 Liquid Chalk ONLY at all facilities until further notice 💚 Staff specific COVID-Prevention policies, equipment, & PPE to protect our team We'll keep you updated next week after our first test week!

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Featured photo by Sunny Szpak-Holly.