“To bring in kids and families, plain walls and ‘boulders’ aren’t as inviting as, say, a rocket ship,” says general manager Keith Levinson.
That rocket ship — and all of the other quirky designs — were cut from plywood, then sanded finely and hand-painted. So the grips aren’t made of molded plastic like the ones found at typical climbing gyms.
Another unusual feature: Rather than rely on another person to help you get down off the wall, you come down gently via cable with ClimbZone’s hydraulic auto-belay system.
That means there’s one less thing to worry about in terms of safety, says manager Liesl Kenrick, Tiemi’s wife. And you don’t need any special skills to get started.
Most of the 73 panels are 28 feet high and 5 feet across — but a few are extra-wide to let friends and families climb together. Two speed walls are designed so that pairs can race. Hit a button at the bottom, and first one to the top hits another button to score.
“It’s more interesting and more challenging than standard indoor climbing. The handholds might be soccer balls, or you might be climbing over a surfboard,” says Brian Riemer of Perry Hall, Md., who tackled the walls alongside his daughters, 9 and 11.
Although youngsters are ClimbZone’s target demographic, Riemer says adults can have fun too: “My favorite was the neon balls of different sizes that light up.”
Details: ClimbZone USA (13200 Mid Atlantic Blvd., Laurel, Md.; climbzone.us). Ages 2-5, $12; ages 6 and up, $25.
Three climbs to rock
Easiest: ClimbZone is designed so kids can tackle any wall, at least its first few yards. But newbies may get a confidence boost if they start with the most basic option: It’s got a blue wave on the left, a yellow wave on the right and lots of solid holds.
Toughest: No early users made it to the top of the skinny Washington Monument. The deceptive design features lots of holds, but they’re thin and slippery.
Wackiest: The first 8 feet of the skateboard wall is a curved ramp — what fans of TV’s “American Ninja Warrior” would call the Warped Wall. There are ladders on either side to get you above the ramp, but everyone wants to run up the front instead.
By Ellen Ryan (For Express)
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