What are other people paid to teach rappelling?

7:32 p.m. on June 21, 2007 (EDT)
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I've been teaching rappelling for about 10 years. I work with Girl Scouts, at a residential treatment center for teens in trouble, with other school groups, and also with a few adult groups.

I'm wondering what other people get paid to do this. I don't own the equipment or provide the insurance, but I maintain all of the gear and logs, get myself retrained ocassionally, recruit and train my belayers, and make almost all of the plans for how each group can get the most out of their lessons.

I usually charge $100 to $150 a day. I suspect that is low, but I live in an economically slow area and work is sporadic. I'm just wondering so I can let the people that pay me know what a deal they are getting, and also to help me think if I should charge more.

I've tried searching the web for this info, but my job title seems to be below the radar. Any input is really appreciated.

9:06 p.m. on June 21, 2007 (EDT)
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Pam -
Most of us who work with youth groups do so for free as far as time goes. When we use our own gear, most of us figure out a lifetime of the gear (using the UIAA/CE dictated values plus estimates of how many kids rappelling down the line will put significant wear on the rope) and do some hand-waving math to come up with a rough value. It's on a per-kid basis, but figuring about 10 minutes per kid (basic instruction, harnessing them up, sending them down, undoing them) and 5 hours of working the stations is 30 kids per day per station. I mostly work with Boy Scouts (I'm Council Climbing Director for 2 Scout Councils, and so I have the Councils buy the gear, both for the "in-town" programs and the summer camp programs.

Some individual units do hire professional guide services, hence pay professional guide fees. The two guide services run by people I know (in both cases, climbing partners from years back) charge $25-50 per youth participant for a day, depending on the activities (climbing is usually included as well as rappelling). A retired guide who used to work with me based his fee on the commercial permit fees he had to pay in the local state and national parks in addition to the wear and tear on the gear, but again, basically donated his time to youth groups.

Most of what I do these days in these lines is train the adult leaders, using the training program that BSA has come up with as a result of legal and insurance considerations. There are several levels of training - Climbing Director, Lead Climbing Instructor, Climbing Instructor, and Bouldering Facilitator, plus trainee positions for youths 16 to 18 who work under the adult instructors. There is a parallel ropes course program, called COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience). The adults trained for instructing in that program are not considered qualified to teach or supervise the climbing activities. Again, all these folks are volunteers. Summer camp staff are paid salaries for the summer, but the expenses there are part of the camp fees.

8:39 a.m. on June 22, 2007 (EDT)
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Hello Pam:

A couple of things come to mind. I also work with the GSUSA, BSA. youth groups. I dont charge for these youth groups, yet the advantages are that both of these youth organizations have a 1 million dollar umbrella policy. I use our councils equipment when I am taking the children out and also on the councils two climbing towers. In our council, we hire "summer staff" to run the towers on the council property for the summer camp programs. They go and get trained on a regional level (BSA) and for the GSUSA the trainers come to their camps to train the staff. The summer staff people are paid a very little amount (around 2000.00 dollars for a straight 8 week program). I had taken the BSA climbing directors training in New Mexico and I also train local scout leaders on the three phases that we have set up here in the council. I also guide part time for a company called Outdoor Adventures and ALL of the guides are AMGA certified. I am only TRSM for all I do as a guide is top rope but I had to have that certification for insurance purposes. I only make 200.00 dollars per day plus tips. The company does pay for my gas also for I live several hours away from thier climbing area.

If you dont own the equipment, and you arent supplying the insurance and finding your own clients, the 150-200 dollar is acutally a fair pay. The equipment and insurance is what drives the cost up for a guiding service. The equipment is cycled quite often, most of the time, well before the manufacturer recommendations. For the guiding service also, if you have to provide your own insurance as most if not all companies do, you'll need to be AMGA certified to even get insurance and a TRSM course runs around 750.00 dollars and is good for only three years. As you move up into the level 1 and level 2, the price really climbs upward and it is a big commitment of time and training to obtain these certifications.

If you are looking at what guide services charge, most all the guide services will have thier prices posted on the internet. But you are really comparing apples with oranges, since your "overhead and risk" is quite low.

12:05 p.m. on June 22, 2007 (EDT)
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A further comment - BSA and GSUSA, as well as other organizations working with youth, depend heavily on volunteers. So if you start pushing on the professional staff about what a bargain they are getting, you may find that they don't buy it, since you are "a volunteer." I have sometimes found it strange that they recruit volunteers (and solicit donations) with the phrase "giving back to the community" and talk about the cause and vision, yet the professionals themselves often seem more interested in the money and don't seem to have the personal dedication to "the cause" that they push for the volunteers. In addition to my involvement as Climbing Director and running and instructing in other courses, I oversee timber management on two camp properties for one council, spending an amount of time and effort that I am told by professionals in the timber management business generally gets a 6-figure salary. But as a volunteer, I am expected to generate income for the council and donate my expenses plus cash to the various fund-raising campaigns (like many volunteers, I am retired and living on a pension, so don't really have all that much available cash). Don't get me wrong. I don't begrudge them the time and effort, since BSA and GSUSA were meaningful in my family's life (my father, my sister and me, our children, my wife and her brother, etc), and I am happy to "give back". It is also true that like most non-profits and charitable organizations, BSA and GSUSA are increasingly strapped for cash.

This is not meant to suggest in any way you are out of line in expecting something for your efforts, especially if guiding and instruction are a significant source of income for you. It does cost money. Having the insurance and gear provided by the organization is good, and I believe they need to be conscious of the fact that it ain't free, folks. Like FMD, the students in the instructor training courses I run and the adult leaders when I act as instructor for the youth on unit outings do pitch in to help cover my gas money and, if I have to use my personal gear, some of the wear and tear.

I am more just cautioning you that the professional staff at the GSUSA council's office probably have an expectation that you are basically "a volunteer", hence donating your time, gear, and expenses. I see both GSUSA and BSA councils around here approaching professional climbing guide services and gyms all the time asking them to donate their services and use of their equipment. They don't seem to realize that the training required to run a safe program (and by the insurance companies) costs money, and the gear must be maintained and replaced. You should be prepared to lay out the figures to show that - "you want a safe program? I gotta keep current training and certification, and that costs, so I have to have some financial support and reimbursement here." If it is providing living expenses and is a significant part of your income, let them know that, too. And, yes, let them know what nearby climbing gyms and guide services charge. These may be apples and oranges, but it will give them an idea of what your time and effort are worth. Still, you are going to be compared to the "free" volunteers. Hard facts, so you gotta toot your own horn.

3:09 p.m. on June 29, 2007 (EDT)
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Wow! To the two folks that responded to my question...thanks for taking the time to write such long and thoughtful responses. I realized on reading them that my question did not contain enough information for you to really know my situation and volunteer status. Since those are quite complicated, I won't go into it.
But I do still wonder what other people, who need to be paid, receive. I tried internet searches for "guide services" (1,200,000,000) results, then I tried "guide services" and "climbing gyms" in the 5 cities nearest me. I got fishing, boating, hunting, airplane and apartment finding guides, but nothing related to rappelling. No "climbing gyms" showed up, which doesn't surprise me. I'm in the Big Bend of Texas (remote). Plus, a gym is really nothing like what I do. We backpack our gear up canyons, rappell off rock cliffs, and in many ways custom design the program for each group.
I guess I'll keep searching. Thanks again for the replies.

12:40 p.m. on June 30, 2007 (EDT)
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Pam -
I sent a longer answer off-line. But for the benefit of readers of Trailspace, I will add a couple of comments here.

First point, as noted in the previous posts, is that youth groups are dependent on and used to volunteers who donate time and money, and they push very hard on commercial companies and large corporations for donations. So to a large extent you are up against the expectation that you, too, will donate, or at least give a substantial discount. And if you, like me, do a lot of volunteering, well, gee, that just shows what a good person you are, and so just a bit more volunteering and donating will make you feel all that much better. It is hard to get a fair reimbursement against this attitude on their parts.

Second thing is that there are a number of professional guide services that do work with youth groups. They usually do give a price break to the youth groups, in a bow to the "volunteer" and donation expectations. But these are mostly large enough companies to get a tax break when they fill out the company income tax forms each year. I would suggest you contact some of the larger guide services to see what they do. I will send you another note with some suggested names (I don't think it is a good idea to do it on line, since some people might use the information to try to get unwarranted price breaks). But you could also ask some of the larger climbing equipment dealers and manufacturers what their policies are - REI and EMS often make arrangements for the climbers who work at their shops to help youth groups, and there is some fee arrangement. Some climbing gyms also do what you describe - taking youth groups out to outdoor climbing and rappelling sites. I know of several in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and Houston areas that do so. So you might try contacting as many of those gyms as you can.

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