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Indoor climbing is an increasingly popular form of rock climbing performed on artificial structures that attempt to mimic the experience of outdoor rock. The first indoor climbing gym in the U.S. and Canada was established in Seattle in 1987 under the name of Vertical Club, Inc. It is now known as Vertical World, Inc., which has three gyms in the Puget Sound Area - Seattle, Redmond and Everett.
The proliferation of indoor climbing gyms has increased the accessibility, and thus the popularity, of the sport of climbing. Since environmental conditions (ranging from the structural integrity of the climbing surfaces, to equipment wear, to proper use of equipment) can be more controlled in such a setting, indoor climbing is perhaps a safer and more friendly introduction to the sport. Many rock gyms are settings for birthday parties and youth teams.
This sense of security has a downside—a new gym climber may head to the cliffs and find they do not have all of the necessary skills for climbing in a setting without preplaced anchors, and explicit route finding.
The first indoor walls tended to be made primarily of brick leaving little scope for interesting routes, as the steepness of the wall and variety of the hand holds were somewhat limited. More recently, indoor climbing terrain is constructed of plywood over a metal frame, spray-coated with texture to simulate a rock face.
Indoor climbing has also seen an increase in popularity in areas with rainy climates where climbing outdoors is sometimes difficult. Besides offering an alternative during inclement weather, many working adults find that they can get to the gym after work and still climb even though it is too dark outside. In order to improve in any sport, consistent practice is crucial. With the advent of indoor climbing, weather, seasonal difficulties, and busy schedules are less of an obstacle to consistent improvement, and enjoyment of the sport.
Most climbing competitions are held in climbing gyms, making them a part of indoor climbing.
Compared to outdoor climbing
There are a few differences in techniques, style and equipment between sport climbing outdoors and indoors. Climbing artificial climbing walls, especially indoors is much safer because of controlled environmental conditions. During indoor climbing holds are easily visible in contrast with natural wall where finding a good hold or foothold may be a challenge. Climbers on artificial walls are somewhat restricted to the holds prepared by route setter where on natural walls they can use every slope or crack in the surface of the wall. Some typical rock formations can be difficult to emulate on climbing walls.
Climbing wall construction
The most common construction method involves screwing resin hand holds on to wooden boards. The boards can be of varying height & steepness (from completely horizontal 'roofs' to not even vertical 'slabs') and have a large variety of holds (such as very small 'crimps,' slanted-surfaced 'slopers,' and 'jugs,' which are often large and easy to hold) attached. This variety, coupled with the ability for the climbs to be changed by attaching the holds onto the wall differently, has resulted in indoor climbing becoming a very successful sport.
Proper climbing equipment must be used during indoor climbing.  Most climbing gyms lend harnesses, ropes and belay devices. Some also lend climbing shoes and chalk bags. Some climbing gyms require use of chalk balls (vs loose chalk) to reduce chalk dust in the air and chalk spills when a chalk bag is tipped over or stepped on. Reducing chalk in the air helps avoid clogging the ventilation system and reduces the dust that accumulates on less than vertical surfaces.
- "Scottish Climbing Wall History". Mcofs.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
- "What is Indoor Climbing?". Abc-of-rockclimbing.com. 2011-06-02. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
- "Equipment". Alumnus.caltech.edu. Retrieved 2013-02-03.
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- Climbing Wall Association - a 501(c)(06), non-profit, industry trade association