Rock climbing is one of those activities that effortlessly blends fitness and fun. For some people, indoor rock climbing is their main form of exercise. While they are working out, you may also see a birthday party of 10-year-olds ascending the walls. As a climbing instructor, you can have the opportunity to work with people of all climbing and fitness levels.
How do you become a climbing instructor? Currently, there are no legal requirements to be a rock climbing instructor. However, several courses and certifications are available. Formal training gives instructors better knowledge and experience. Being certified also makes you a more appealing job candidate when applying for work as a climbing instructor.
There may be no requirements to become a rock climbing instructor, but passion is what sets apart great instructors from adequate ones. You should love rock climbing and love teaching others to climb.
What is a Climbing Instructor?
A climbing instructor is someone who monitors and/or teaches rock climbing. Rock climbing instructors can work at facilities with artificial walls or outdoor crags. They may offer personal lessons, group training classes, or just monitor climbers at a specific location.
Many climbing instructors choose to take courses and receive certifications for their profession. AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) offers several programs for climbing education and related courses.
For this article, we will be focusing on indoor/artificial climbing instructors.
So, What Does a Rock Climbing Coach Do?
A climbing instructor may cover a variety of roles within a climbing gym. They can be renting out and servicing equipment, teaching classes, working one-on-one with clients, or monitoring the safety of climbers at the gym.
A rock climbing coach works with amateur or professional rock climbers. They help the climbers improve their strength and climbing techniques. Some rock climbing coaches may also teach beginner classes. Unlike climbing instructors, coaches typically do not monitor the gym or deal with other roles within the climbing gym.
Climbing Instructor vs. Rock Climbing Guide
A climbing instructor usually works at artificial walls or indoor climbing gyms. Some climbing instructors work at natural crags or climbing locations.
Rock climbing guides lead excursions at climbing locations around the world. These guides are who you would see if you book a rock climbing experience on a vacation. Since natural climbing locations do not have premade handholds and climbing paths, guides tend to be very knowledgeable of the specific locations where they work.
How to Become a Climbing Instructor
Since there are no legal or industry requirements to be a climbing instructor, anyone could technically be hired for the job. However, climbing gyms tend to look for hobby rock climbers at a minimum. Education and certifications bolster a candidate’s resume when applying for climbing instructor positions.
Training and Certifications
The most popular program for becoming a climbing instructor is through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). They offer Single Pitch Instructor and Climbing Wall Instructor programs. For instructors looking to work at an artificial wall or indoor climbing gym, the Climbing Wall Instructor program would be the best choice.
AMGA also offers more advanced programs, including the alpine guide and rock guide.
Other certifications and courses include:
- Professional Climbing Instructors Association (PCIA) – Climbing Wall Instructor Course
- Climbing Wall Association (CWA) – Climbing Wall Instructor (CWI) Course
- In-house courses at local climbing gyms
In addition to climbing education, it can be helpful to be CPR and first aid certified when looking for a climbing instructor job.
How Do You Become a Certified Rock Climbing Guide?
For most certification courses, you will need to first meet the prerequisites. This usually means experience with rock climbing. After completing the course (or courses), there will be an exam or assessment to confirm that you have mastered all the material. Once you complete the necessary course and exam, you will receive your certification.
Finding a Job
There are a few different ways to go about finding a climbing instructor job. Since you are most likely a hobby climber, start by reaching out to your community. Local climbers and gym employees will be able to tell you about any available positions or upcoming job posts. Never underestimate the power of networking and simply telling someone that you’re looking for a job.
If you are new to an area or rock climbing, start by reaching out to nearby gyms. Some less populated cities and towns may only have one climbing gym (or none). Look at summer camps, adventure parks, and other places that may have a rock climbing wall. While these locations may not need a full-time climbing instructor, they can be great places to gain experience and get your foot in the door.
Finally, take your search online. Many businesses use popular job posting sites to advertise their available positions. However, they may just post on social media or their websites. When searching, try using multiple keywords since not every gym calls the position “climbing instructor”. Include rock climbing, climbing guide, rock climbing gym, and similar terms in your searches.
Once you find a climbing instructor job, don’t get complacent. You can continue improving your skills and teaching ability. Consider taking advanced courses or certifications. In addition to being a climbing instructor, you could also pursue education about outdoor climbing. “Real” rock climbing has a ton of variety and positions to move into.
If you do have a certification as a climbing instructor, you’ll need to get recertified every couple of years. Check with your course’s governing body for all the certification and recertification requirements.
Life As a Climbing Instructor
Where Climbing Instructors and Coaches Work
Most climbing instructors work at an artificial climbing wall or indoor climbing gym. Sometimes, instructors and coaches will work at outdoor rock climbing locations. Rock climbing coaches may work with athletes at indoor or outdoor facilities.
Climbing instructors may offer group classes or one-on-one sessions for their students. The offerings will vary based on the students’ abilities and skill levels.
Rock Climbing Instructor Salary
According to ZipRecruiter, most climbing instructors make between $21,000 and $34,000 per year. Not all climbing instructors work full-time, so that affects the average annual salaries. Salary.com reports a median income of $48,000 per year for rock climbing instructors.
The salary will be based on the job requirements, hours worked, years of experience, certifications, and local cost of living. Climbing instructors can expect to make more in highly populated areas with a higher cost of living.
It may seem easy to become a climbing instructor because there are no legal or industry certification requirements. However, climbing gyms are not as commonly found as gymnastics studios or martial arts gyms. That means there are fewer positions available. Therefore, if you want to work as a climbing instructor, it is in your best interest to obtain a certification and continue improving your personal skills as a rock climber.