Until now, there hadn’t been a complete, consistent snapshot of the American climbing community. For over a year, the American Alpine Club (AAC) collected data from numerous partner organizations to create a comprehensive report on the state of climbing that includes data on participation, economic impact, advocacy and policy, and more.
“We believe that collecting and distributing this information can lead to inspired action among industry leaders and beyond,” AAC CEO Phil Powers said in a news release. “If our strengths are exhibited, we can leverage them. If our weaknesses are revealed, let’s address them.”
Here are five highlights from the 44-page report, available for download here.
Climbing is mainstream
No longer a sport for just thrill seekers, climbing has reached record participation numbers in the last few years. It’s appealing to the masses, evident in the film ‘Free Solo’ winning an Oscar this year. More than 25,000 fans attended the Denver Ice Climbing World Cup this spring. And next year, climbing will debut in the Summer Olympics.
The numbers: The AAC hit 23,000 members this year and the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2014 data shows there were 7.7 million climbers in 2014, which has no doubt grown in the last five years. Data also shows that 65 percent of climbers are millennials, between ages 18 and 35.
It’s still largely white and male
This does not come as a surprise. James Edward Mills, a SNEWS contributor and writer of the report’s foreword, says: “Rather than getting defensive over a statistical fact we should concern ourselves with how to go about fixing it.” Affinity groups, such as Brown Girls Climb and Queer Climbing Collective, have started to help make climbing more equitable and welcoming.
The numbers: The AAC membership breakdown is 85 percent white and 72 percent male; 6 percent Asian/Pacific Islander; 3 percent Hispanic or Latino; 1 percent Black or African American; 1 percent Native American; 4 percent other. And non-members who took the survey were 82 percent white and 7 percent male.
Indoor climbing makes climbing more accessible
Some will say that plastic holds are a lot easier than real rock, but nonetheless, gyms are the gateway for climbers to get outside. Currently, 573 operate in the U.S. and Canada.
The numbers: More than 14 million people tried indoor climbing last year and that number is predicted to get even bigger. The Climbing Wall Association estimates that indoor climbing will be worth $1 billion in 2021. On average, facilities have 100 new members a month, CWA reported.
Climbing boosts the economy
Climbing gear isn’t cheap. Most shoes—the most basic piece in a kit—cost more than $100. The NPD Group found that while sales increased by $21 million from June 2017 to June 2018, it’s partly due to increases in prices—and less about increases in participation.
The numbers: Climbers spent an estimated $12.4 billion in 2017 on activities related to climbing. Rural communities are reaping the benefits. For example, in the Red River Gorge climbing area in Eastern Kentucky, climbers contribute more than $3.6 million a year to the local community.
Climbers are environmental advocates
With an increase in popularity, the industry has also seen an increase in volunteers and voices speaking up for public lands. Recent climbing policy accomplishments include the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as rock climbing ruled a designated use of Bears Ears National Monument.
The numbers: More than 90 percent of climbers report they are worried about climate change, and more than 60 percent report that they have witnessed the effects of climate change themselves.