As gyms begin to reopen in Stage 3, climbing centres offer advice


TORONTO — As gyms in Ontario begin to open under Stage 3 of the province’s COVID-19 recovery plan, staff at indoor climbing centres — which have already been open for weeks — are advising gym owners to take their time.

Climbing gyms were allowed to open as early as July 6 after the province made provisions for some amateur and professional sport facilities to reopen under Stage 2.

Traditional gyms are allowed to open under Stage 3, which is where all but one region — Windsor-Essex — will be on the province’s reopening plan as of Friday.

Karen McGilvray, owner of The Rock Oasis in Toronto, said gyms should consider opening up little by little as staff need time to get used to working in pandemic conditions.

“It’s like a completely new job,” said McGilvray, noting her facility used to accommodate 200 climbers at a time, but now only allows 20 per session.

“See how you manage with a small amount, because it does take some time training staff.”

McGilvray said the indoor climbing experience has completely changed, and her gym gets climbers to stay in specific parts of the facility throughout their session to reduce mixing. People are also asked to sanitize their hands every time they climb a route.

Although masks aren’t mandatory in fitness settings, McGilvray said her team opted to require them to further protect staff and climbers, framing it as a sort of challenge.

“The staff are trying to encourage people to focus on their breathing and keep their breathing under control, which is better for your climbing anyway,” said McGilvray, who said people are being encouraged to also take mask breaks outside.

“We’re trying to see the positive in it.”

At Joe Rockhead’s, an indoor climbing facility in Toronto’s Liberty Village, co-owner Luigi Montilla said the focus is on making sure people don’t get complacent about social distancing rules.

“Climbing is big on the community aspect of it and socializing, and one of the things we’re trying to curb is the extended kind of conversations,” said Montilla.

“We want to keep people isolated within the gym so they’re not interacting as much.”

Dr. Chris Hicks, an emergency room physician and partner in Advanced Performance Healthcare Design who helped GoodLife Fitness create a reopening plan, said educating gym users about working out responsibly will be an important part of operating during the pandemic.

“By coming to a gym, you’re accepting the responsibility not only for yourself, but for the protection of others,” said Hicks. “I think people are starting to get that.”

He said gyms can also make an effort to subtly “nudge” users towards following safety precautions.

“One of the things we found out was if you simply put a handwashing station in the path of the user instead of off the side, people are much more inclined to use it,” said Hicks, who ran a series of simulations for GoodLife to try and solve potential issues during reopening.

But while staff at climbing gyms are happy to be back in business, the combination of lower usage and higher costs due to safety measures means some are still losing money.

Joe Rockhead’s is considering an increase to membership and daily pass fees, and McGilvray said the situation isn’t much better at The Rock Oasis.

“We’re still losing money, we’re just losing a little less,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2020.


Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press


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