The Boston Rock Gym & Climbing

QuestionForLiving interview with Chris O'Connell January 20, 2011 regarding The Boston Rock Gym & Climbing

QuestionsForLiving's notes regarding the interview: When interviewing Chris O'Connell he speaks with the enthusiasm of someone who has just discovered rock climbing for the first time. He loves it! There were several points that emerged throughout the interview: the state of mind created when climbing, risk management, and the broad range of people who are attracted to rock climbing. It seems that Chris is good at what he does because he is truly present with all aspects of the sport. This presence / ethic is observed and felt in the gym, giving it a unique and refreshing authenticity. One example is that the routes in the gym are notoriously harder than the ratings. Boston Rock Gym is not a place to have one's ego pampered, but rather, to find and solve complex rock problems intended to test and expand the capabilities of the mind and body. Chris has participated at the gym over that past 25 years as an employee, patron and owner. Boston Rock Gym is one of the oldest and longest standing rock gyms in the country for a reason - it is the gym's commitment to the rock climbing experience.

QuestionsForLiving: What questions were your primary questions when you decided to purchase the Boston Rock Gym?

 Chris:  I had written a business plan for a rock gym when I was in graduate school. That idea just stayed with me for years.  The primary questions were:

  • What do I want to do with my life?

  • Can I work in an area where I have passion?

  • Can I introduce this sport that I love to a broader group of people?

QuestionsForLiving: What questions do you ask yourself when making decisions such as maintaining and expanding the Boston Rock Gym?


  • Where would I want to climb?

  • What is the best way that we can improve?

  • How can I create a place where I would feel comfortable and where I would want to climb? What would it be like? How would it feel?

Note: The gym is defined by the activity and the experience. When making decisions regarding the rock gym I focus on the experience. If I have a choice between replacing the carpet or purchasing new holds - it's an easy decision -I buy the holds. I try to make decisions based on the experience and community rather than based on the profit and loss with the assumption that by serving the customers and offering a quality / authentic experience, that will be the best business decision.

  • In sharing the sport, I and the other folks at the Boston Rock Gym, sometimes experience a dilemma:  "By doing what I love and sharing rock climbing with a broader audience, am I increasing the traffic and environmental impact at climbing locations throughout the North East and thereby destroying serenity and purity of experience?"

Note: Ultimately, we have come to realize that it is the responsibility of the climbers to care for the environment when they are outdoors. Also, even as the number of climbers has increased over the years, the focus has shifted to bouldering and the more remote multi pitch climbs are probably less frequented now than they were 10 years ago.

  • One component of operating the gym is risk management. In managing the Gym I always ask "What is the worst-case scenario that could happen?", "How can I reduce the risk to the climbers and patrons?", and "What can happen?"
  • What needs to get done in the gym for up keep and to improve / expand? 

Note: As a manager I am not a micromanager I trust people, I believe in people and generally I approach life with the idea that people's intentions are good.

QuestionsForLiving: What are some good questions that an individual climber should ask to maximize their enjoyment of climbing?


  • What aspects of the sport do I like best, is that the movement, the challenge, the gear / equipment, being outdoors, or the perceived risk?
  • What activities do I most enjoy: bouldering, top roping, etc?

    Note: What draws, and attracts, you to the sport of climbing will impact the type of climber you are and will guide how you most enjoy the sport. Climbing is not for everybody. But for the people who feel the need to climb, they usually gravitate towards a specific component of the sport. The Rock climbing community is like a big family but it definitely has a subdivisions. Climbing attracts people from all walks of life who enjoy exercise, adrenaline, a challenge, and who are thoughtful about the way their body works with technology / systems and the rock. Knowing, and being aware of, what you most enjoy will enable you to spend the time with those experiences. The skills develop with time, experience and just being present with the sport.


Great post. After reading

aniame's picture

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