A couple of summers ago, I was working with a youth leadership camp and we had everything set: date, time, location, programming. Or so we thought. It was a very dry summer and the Friday before the camp started on Monday, the camp we had scheduled had a major fire.
It burned part of the camp, but also burned their ropes course facility. They ended up shutting down the camp because of dangerous hot spots. We had to scramble for another location that could handle a last-minute group of over 70 students!
The good news: I found one rather quickly.
The bad news: They didn’t have a ropes course. (Bummer!)
So, I spent the next 2 or 3 days calling different places and looking at options. What I learned from that experience will help me (and hopefully you) quickly find a ropes course when you need one.
Do your research
I made a ton of phone calls and scoured the internet for local ropes courses. We don’t live in a mountainous area and are not known for our outdoorsy culture in the panhandle of Texas. Yet, in doing some research and talking with other people, I found courses that I previously had no idea were even close.
Use whatever resources you can find to locate what you need. Make phone calls, use your connections, use the internet (although it’s not always accurate), ask around for recommendations.
Get ropes course recommendations
Check with other leaders in the area and see if they’ve used local ropes courses. How was their experience? What were the facilitators like? How were the facilities? How did management work with them to provide what they needed?
Ask them what ropes courses they know of or have heard of. Also, as you call some ropes courses, they might even give you an idea of other courses in the area.
Ask the right questions
1. Can they handle your group size?
Some ropes courses have very few facilitators (from what I learned). If you have a small group, most courses should be able to facilitate your team. However, if you have more than 25 to 30, some courses might not have the resources to handle your group. Be sure to call and check before signing a contract.
2. What is their course like? What challenges and elements do they offer?
There are a truckload of different options for ropes courses. Some facilities have both low and high elements. Some only have a high ropes course. Some only have a few individual elements.
If you want a quality team building experience, use courses that have both high and low ropes courses and can also handle team initiatives (which are somewhat different than low elements) and are willing to do icebreaker activities and work with you on your team goals.
3. What would they recommend for a day-long event?
Get a feel for what they would offer your team. Ask questions about different kinds of elements and how each challenge would help your team get the desired results. Do they recommend having a pow-wow beforehand and going over your team’s goals? (This is something I highly recommend).
If they aren’t willing to do this and want to fly by the seat of their pants on your team day, keep looking. Find a ropes course facility that will work with you from beginning to end.
4. How much is it per person? And what do you get with that price?
Prices vary just about as much as the number and types of elements at each facility. Make a few calls and ask what you get for the price. Be sure and tell them what you are looking for and ask what the per person cost is.
5. Are they willing to work with an outside facilitator?
If for some reason you can’t find a facility that is willing to work with you to develop a strategic plan for your day, ask if the ropes course would be willing to work with an outside facilitator (or just let them know you’re bringing one and the outside facilitator can and should call the facility to go over expectations).
If you have the budget for it, this is definitely a good option.
The outside facilitator can work with you not only on the day of your team building event, but can also work with you before and after the event to help integrate the things that you will learn and the issues that will be revealed during your day or two of team building activities.
6. Will your group be the only one at the facility or will there be others?
If you’re going to pay money to use a ropes course, you want to make sure that you will be the only ones using it, especially for a day of team building. Now, if there are two groups (or more) and the course is large enough, there might be enough room to share as long as you’re in different locations.
[For example, if the course has both a low ropes area and a high ropes area and they are far enough apart, there might be room for another group without disturbing yours.]
This is one question I would ask and be sure to get the answer. If the course is small and there will be another group or other groups there, you might want to keep looking.
More Ideas for Ropes Course Locations
If you’re still stuck, or if you haven’t found what you need, here are a few ideas that might help you find a course that will work for your team.
(I found one church that had a rock climbing wall and zip line. It wasn’t ideal, but we could have made it work. Churches are also connected with camps and might know of a camp that has one close by)
b. Juvenile Correctional Facilities
Our local juvenile facility has a ropes course that they run. It couldn’t handle our group, but now I know it’s there for future reference.
c. Boy’s or Girl’s Homes
There is a local boy’s home called Boy’s Ranch that has a ropes course facility. It had the cheapest rates, but they couldn’t handle our group size.
d. Camps or Conference Centers
We ended up finding a camp that was a little further than what we originally planned, but they got us in quickly, could handle the number of participants and were great in working with us. Before this, I had no idea this camp even existed.