8 Questions To A Sport Climbing Instructor

If you are a climber, the question has probably crossed your mind at some point. Can you make climbing a profession and how does it happen? Commercial potential of the sport is huge, because climbing in all it's forms is getting really popular in Finland. This is best seen at indoor climbing gyms, which are often packed. A new gym was opened in Espoo just last October, and there are now six gyms in and near Helsinki. The season is short, so most Finnish climbers practice indoors at least part of the year (if they can't escape the rain and dropping temperature abroad, haha). There's also a million different courses available, aimed mostly at first-timers or beginners.

So, what would it be like to work in the climbing industry? I imagine that there's a lot of competition and if you somehow manage to get a job, you're underpaid. It might also require some serious effort to go climbing after work, since you've already spent the whole day at the crag or gym. But is it still more fun than sprinting from meeting to another at the office? To find out, I asked a couple of questions from Heikki Pitkänen, a SCI (Sport Climbing Instructor) from Joensuu, and decided to share the answers with you. Spoiler: he didn't prove all my doubts wrong.

What's your profession?

I'm an electrician.

What's the education like and how long did it take?

It took me three years in vocational school and one year in an institution of adult education to become an electrician. To certify as a SCI took me about five years. I took all the hobby and instructor courses available by the FCA (Finnish Climbing Association). I'm thinking about attending to the IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association) rope access training as well, aiming to be able to train people who work in the heights.

Do you make a living as a SCI?

Not really. Some busiest months maybe, but not regularly.
So far it's been a side job.
I'm under the impression, that this is the case with all our local climbing instructors. Everyone has an actual job as well.

Do you get to climb at work?

It depends, but yeah, it's part of being a SCI that you climb as well. When I teach climbing at the gym, it's mostly just hanging around wearing harness. When I worked at the local adventure park, I sometimes made coffee with my harness on. Everything went well, so nobody needed rescuing. On the other hand, when you teach climbing outdoors, you get to climb quite a lot. You need to set up the top rope system, take it down, take the gear up etc.

Heikki climbing. Photo: Martta Salmi

I prefer guiding groups with plenty of sports in their schedule. For that, you need to be in shape yourself. In fact, I think having a good sport specific endurance is one of the things you can specialize in as a SCI. It's not something to take for granted, since instructors for other sports can't do the same work. Athletes understand this well, but sports coordinators sometimes don't get it. They might try to underpay you thinking that if you say no, they can simply hire someone else. So far nobody has succeeded, though. It takes years to build a high level sport specific endurance, so finding a person who can replace you isn't something that can be done in two days. I don't know what they are thinking...

What's your typical workday like in the summer? What about in the winter?

There's no such thing as a typical workday, since I keep doing a different job almost every summer. Either employee or location usually changes. In the summer you usually have to look for jobs farther away. The workday typically starts around noon and ends in the evening, at a different time each day. Working hours vary a lot. In the winter the shifts tend to be a bit more regular and you can sometimes even choose them.

Did you use to climb more than now that your work is related to climbing?

I'd say I climb about the same amount. When you're at work, you may not get to climb that much. On the other hand, you're already at the crag or gym when the workday is over, so it's easy to stay climbing.

What was your first climbing-related job?

I think it was teaching a kids' climbing course. I'm not sure though. It was only one hour in a week, and I was paid only 10 euros an hour, so not much.

One more question. What's been the most surprising thing or situation that you've confronted at work?

Well, the fewer surprises the better you've succeeded in your work. The aim is to be as prepared as possible, so you don't have to run around putting out fires all the time. I keep a mental record of everyone, and I'm usually the one to notice if someone's missing. One surprising event comes into mind, though. Technically I wasn't working then, but I was taking my students climbing on my free time.

A bolt came off the wall, when I clipped it. 

Lead climbing on that wall is now banned. It appears that the wall was not built right.


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