Progressive Climbing Education - Creating a Welcoming Community

The third tenet of Mountaineers Climbing Education is Creating a Welcoming Community. This means we will welcome new climbers and climbers new to the area, facilitating mentorship at all levels, and helping all climbers enter the community regardless of their climbing background. We will also welcome new techniques and new perspectives on climbing.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
September 15, 2016
Progressive Climbing Education - Creating a Welcoming Community

We believe we have a responsibility to build a community that welcomes climbers of all types - new climbers, climbers new to the area, climbers from every community, hard core climbers, and those of us that dabble in climbing. That's why we embarked on a project called Progressive Climbing Education - an initiative to re-think our program design to better meet the needs of the climbing community and better achieve our mission. The first step involved intensive information-seeking, then we took the feedback to simplify our project goals. One of those goals is to "Create a Welcoming Community." 

Responses we received through interviews, surveys, and listening sessions confirmed that our Board, members, and the broader climbing community agree that creating a welcoming community is one of our primary charges as an organization.

The Need

In 1906, The Mountaineers was founded by 151 visionaries who wanted to create a community of like-minded people: people who wanted to explore the mountains, preserve our wild places, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and safety in numbers. Half of our founding members were women.

The Mountaineers quickly grew to be a popular club, and today we have about 12,000 members in our nonprofit organization. We continue to grow because of our community. We've learned from our member survey that most members join initially for affordable outdoor education, but the biggest reason members renew is to stay active in the lifelong community of friends, mentors, and climbing partners made through The Mountaineers.

Our community extends beyond paying Mountaineers members and our participation in the greater climbing community matters a lot (as we heard over and over in our research). That participation takes a lot of forms: hosting speakers, films, and events, providing online trip reports so climbers have recent beta to reference, partnering with other organizations to support access, providing training facilities, and bringing climbers together.

Lots of climbing micro-communities form in places like gyms and local crags, but The Mountaineers has the opportunity and responsibility to bring together climbers of all types into a welcoming community.

We need to:

  • Make it easy for anyone to get involved in our climbing community
  • Foster an inclusive environment that supports climbers of all backgrounds
  • Provide ways for climbers to connect with other climbers
  • Participate and sometimes provide leadership in important efforts by the climbing community

What we're doing well

  • Our courses provide community - Most of our courses take place over many days or many weeks (or months) and include intense outdoor experiences. Students build community through campfires, shared experiences, and time spent learning together. When a course is over, the instructors become lifelong mentors for the graduates.
  • Host Climbing Events - The Mountaineers hosts speakers, film festivals, gear grabs, and other events open to the community in Seattle, Olympia, and Tacoma. Many of these events draw 500+ people from the greater climbing community. This stood out in our survey as something of great value to many in the community.
  • Provide a trip reporting platform - provides a robust trip reporting platform similar to Washington Trails Association's hiking trip platform, allowing climbers to find recent beta before heading out.

Where we're falling short

  • Inclusion - The Mountaineers is reputed to be an "old white man's club". While statistically our members are a little less than half female, the perception exists for a reason. Only about 12% self-report as non-white, and we hear stories of sexism often. Women in The Mountaineers feel unsupported as leaders, and sometimes as climbers, and many people of color do not feel welcome as part of The Mountaineers community. 
  • We make it hard to get involved and stay involved - Our courses fill quickly with long waitlists, making it difficult for new folks to get involved certain courses. We lack a formal equivalency program making us unable to offer some folks with non-Mountaineers climbing experience a way to skip the courses and get involved at their level. Those who do make it through our courses have few options to stay involved because we offer very few trips outside of our courses.
  • We don't provide climbers with opportunities to climb with other Mountaineers other than through a course - Climbers who meet through a course often end up leaving The Mountaineers and climbing with their new community outside of The Mountaineers. Because we have few non-course trip offerings, and our policies require members to climb with an official Mountaineers leader, climbers are left with no option but to organize outside of our club.

Ideas for Improvement

  • Invest in transformational diversity and inclusion training for the entire organization - Our Staff, Board, and Volunteers largely lack the knowledge, language, and awareness we need to truly become an inclusive organization. A strategic investment in this area may be needed to transform our organization.
  • Expand locations to more communities - Our locations make it difficult for many people to participate in our programs. If we expanded to run programs at community centers in new neighborhoods or partnered with gyms, for example, we would make it possible for more people to participate in our broader climbing community.
  • Build in forum capacity online - By allowing members to connect with other members through The Mountaineers, we would foster an ongoing community of climbers. If members could self-organize "pick-up trips" - not sanctioned by The Mountaineers, but within our system - members would have an advantage over Meetups because they could see the background of those joining their trip while not being bound by the rigidity of needing a climb leader for every excursion into The Mountains. Ultimately,  exponentially more opportunities for graduates of our courses to participate without enrolling in another course could be made possible.
  • Streamline equivalency for students and instructors - By paying a staff person (perhaps a guide) to work with committees to develop and run an on-going year-round equivalency program, skilled climbers would be available to volunteer to teach or to enroll in advanced courses without enduring endless bureaucracy. Our community would grow, and the strengths of our climbers would diversify and benefit our entire community.
  • Build capacity for trips outside of courses - By using paid guides to lead course-related trips (those trips listed specifically for course students to participate in for graduation requirements), volunteer leader time is freed up to lead "club trips" - trips open to anyone in the organization who has show the necessary proficiency. Our leaders would no longer be begged and pressured into leading just one more trip to help students fulfill their graduation requirements, and they would have the freedom to lead trips for anyone in the organization. Our course graduates would have new ways to stay involved.



North Sound - Tuesday, October 11
South Sound - Wednesday, October 12

In these town hall meetings, we'll seek your input on these ideas and more. Please join us and invite others. We want as much input as possible.


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Patrick Podenski
Patrick Podenski says:
Sep 19, 2016 09:10 AM

These same concerns likely apply to other Mountaineers activities besides climbing.