Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Five Questions for Chris Danielson

Chris Danielson working a new classic way up Glacier Gorge in RMNP. Photo courtesy of

I am really pleased to present a short interview with Chris Danielson, a true climbing professional. These interviews will be an ongoing feature of Mountains and Water, all in an effort to present a broad range of the personalities and characters that make up the climbing world. Thanks a bunch Chris!

1. What's your job and how did you get into the climbing industry?

I work independently as the National Climbing Wall Representative for various handhold and gear brands. I represent the climbing brands in the Great Trango Holdings family - e-Grips, PMI, Flashed, and Trango - as well as two other top handhold companies, So iLL, and Teknik.

My other full-time job is that I work as an independent consultant to climbing walls. I started my consultation work, Thread Climbing, a few years ago, assisting climbing wall businesses in their start-up and providing direction to help businesses operate professionally, efficiently, and successfully. This work branched off from my long-term experience as a routesetter at various top gyms, work building climbing walls about a decade ago, years in competition organization and routesetting with USA Climbing, and perhaps as much or more from my academic experience and passion for research.

2. What are you doing for the upcoming ABS nationals?

I am one of a team of routesetters for the Adult Nationals event. This event has become the premier bouldering competition in the country, and I have been proud to be a part of it for many years. Our team is a collection of some of the most experienced competition routesetters over the past decade - Scott Mechler, Kynan Waggoner, Jamie Emerson, and the strong younger guy in the crew - Kyle McCabe. We basically spend a long week trying to create spectacular movement that will also do the incredibly challenging job of fairly dividing the field of competitors.

3. What do you think makes for a great comp problem?

Having set for a lot of big competitions over the past years, more and more I believe that a great competition problem has to have extraordinary movement. Perhaps most important is that the problem is set well from the standpoint of division, such that it gets progressively harder - but that is more a technical part of the setting. The creative aspect - trying to come up with movements that will be exciting for the crowd to watch repeatedly, fun for the climbers themselves, and at their best - unique. We challenge ourselves to create climbing that inspires. A good way to assess a problem, aside from whether it is progressively difficult, is how many pieces of flair does it have. I think we've got some good flair for ABS Nationals set up...

4. Any advice for those aspiring to be professional routesetters?

Don't be inspired by the amount of money you may or may not ever make, but at bottom, be inspired by the creative process and take the work seriously as a way to introduce climbing to new people, motivate climbers, and challenge yourself. A career as a professional routesetter is hard to come by, and even harder on the body. It's physically and mentally draining. But there is nothing else like creating climbing movement the way routesetters do, it's an amazingly, singular unique activity.

Someone once said, I can't recall who - what we need are more climbing professionals, not more professional climbers. I guess I'd say we could use more of both, but the more professional you take your work and passion, the more successful you'll be.

5. What's your view of how the recession is affecting the climbing industry?

An economic downturn hits everyone in some way, but I think certain categories of the climbing marketplace are affected greater than others. Perhaps retailers and manufacturers will get hit a bit in 2009, or, just as likely, as in other industries, this will simply be a strong wake up call to find ways to operate more efficiently, which may mean even if business is down, the bottom line may not be affected as much. Also, while to many climbing is simply a recreational activity among others, to those of us for which it is a passion, we may just redirect our spending. Rather than take a long trip this year, I imagine people may frequent their home areas more often and spend more time in the gym, which bodes well for gym owners and perhaps even local shops. People may save money on gas, but will buy plywood, handholds and some climbing videos, and train hard, getting that much more motivated to go to some new climbing destination when they have more confidence in their spending. Or, as is commonly said - the most serious climbers will go without food before climbing, and in their own way, may inspire others, with that fervent passion for the sport.


Chris can be reached at cdanielson at ghti dot com

Thanks again for your help Chris and good luck with the Nationals this weekend!

If you or someone you know would like to be part of the Five Questions Series, contact me at petergbeal at hotmail dot com.


Anonymous said...

nice interview peter.

sock hands said...

word to danielson!

Anonymous said...

i found his comments on the climbing economy particularly interesting. it would be cool to get some spending numbers on the average climber. assuming 20% is dedicated to travel, those dollars might very well be (re)allocated to gyms, videos, holds, etc..

i also like the part about needing more climbing professionals rather than professional climbers. this was also echoed (in different terms) in carlo traversi's most recent post. i tend to agree with both.

again, fantastic interview.

Peter Beal said...

Go to planet mountain to see a more optimistic, and I suspect prematurely so, reading of the economic situation in Europe.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the link peter.

we might should think then about the how climbers are distributed (i.e. types of employment) throughout the labour force. the crisis is far-reaching, but whatever sectors we populate seem to be stable.... for now.

Anonymous said...

just as an aside. The National Science Foundation is getting 3 billion in the stimulus package.

grants anyone?