Nov 20, 2012
by SIMON MATHER CBN Feature Writer
A world-leading company with a firm foundation in Central Oregon is scaling ever greater heights in diverse directions, including construction of the world’s tallest urban man-made climbing wall, development of a widening array of product options and the opening up of more recreational opportunities through an accessible new indoor concept imported from New Zealand.
Artificial climbing wall innovator Enter Prises USA is headquartered in Bend’s north east industrial district, with project design and production primarily carried out in-house, employing cutting edge methods.
Many of the large climbing wall components are pre-manufactured before being transported and assembled on-site utilizing cranes, most recently at Indiana’s ‘Hoosier Heights.’ The largest climbing gym in the Midwest, now boasts a true world-class training facility including lead climbing, bouldering and speed climbing thanks to utilization of Entre Prises’ popular ‘Mozaik’ panel system featuring unlimited route setting capabilities, multiple color schemes and durable non-aggressive texture.
But the roots of the company actually stretch back to Europe when, in 1983, Entre Prises was founded in France by Francois Savigny, an industrial engineer and rock climber.
Initially, the product was an innovative selection of detachable modular holds made of resinous concrete, intended to be attached to vertical concrete or cinderblock walls and representing the world’s first commercially marketed climbing holds.
A few years later the pioneering Frenchman introduced his first panel system, and the products effectively ushered in the era of modular, artificial rock climbing walls.
Savigny harbored a vision for an international company which was translated into reality while visiting Central Oregon and climbing Smith Rock in 1988 when he teamed up with several prominent American climbers and Entre Prises USA was born.
The U.S. executive team ended up buying the company in 1999 and ramped up business for the next decade to keep pace with fans of the bourgeoning new sport of artificial wall climbing who were seeking structures resembling those found in nature, and Entre Prises developed ever more elaborate creations to remain a pioneering leader at the forefront of the trend.
In 2009 the venture was sold to current owners ABEO - a French group of companies leading the European market in sports and leisure equipment for public institutions, local authorities and the private sector – with the US division remaining a vital component as shared technologies and cooperation reinforced an international reach that remains a driving force of the Entre Prises culture which has spawned over 4,000 climbing wall projects worldwide.
Through continuing bold innovations, Entre Prises has developed quality products and earned a reputation as a trailblazer in the market of artificial climbing structures, bolstered by the group’s active participation in the development of the discipline, partnerships with the biggest national and international federations and a strong presence around the globe.
The North American base of operations consolidated to its current home off 18th Street in 2010 after previously operating a split site with plants in Bend and Redmond.
EP USA Managing Director Jason Stollenwork said: “Merging the locations was a positive step as we were able to consolidate operations and work on design and manufacture more efficiently under the same roof.
“With the support of our parent group we have also been constantly pushing forward to develop more products catering to every aspect of the market.
“For instance, we launched the ‘Mosaik’ system featuring a new plywood base rather than composite product, which was huge because it allowed us to go back to the bigger climbing gyms in the 8-20,000 square foot surface area range with a more affordable offering which was appealing to them, and which has allowed us to grow that line of business.”
Director of Operations Allister Schwarzenberger said that bringing together all the shops involved in the design and production process, from computerized design to painting, texturing and fabrication has been a boon to business, especially in terms of facilitating continual research and development.
He added: “The fact that much of the structures are pre-manufactured in sections, trucked out and assembled at the client base means much less time spent on site in terms of construction and consequent potential disruption to the customer’s business compared to competitors.”
The ability to build facilities in less mountainous parts of the country such as the Midwest has also been appreciated by local populations getting sport climbing opportunities in a controlled environment as an introduction to the activity.
Stollenwork added: “Over time the market has changed and we have adapted with it and innovated to stay ahead of the curve.
“We now run the whole gamut in having a diversified range of choices and options including the more affordable product lines, and we are getting more into universities, who seem to vie to outdo each other with bigger and better sport climbing facilities.
“After a relatively flat period that everyone went through during the economic downturn business is on the upswing again and interest in the activity is growing and catching up with Europe. It is even now on the short list for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games.”
Stollenwork said that markets have “evolved tremendously” from somewhat random beginnings where there were a lot of one-off flagship projects for galleries, retail stores and the like, adding: “Now there is a more mass appeal and we have seen an upsurge in interest from universities, who can promote the facilities as a recruitment tool.
“Demand comes from a variety of sources - recently we even built a wall replicating an urban tower scene, complete with windows that could be abseiled through, for use in training by Special Ops forces at the Marine Corps Camp Lejeune base.”
Schwarzenberger said research and development was constantly pushing innovation forward, including formulation of the new ‘Lightwave’ product which takes the genre a step further in the realm of curved and organic shapes, with hand crafted replications of more natural climbing experiences rather than geometric panel.
Lightwave walls are hand shaped, textured, and colored to meet any specification and allow inclusion of tufas, flakes, cracks and crimps to all be incorporated on the surface of the wall which, coupled with a high density of climbing hold placements, allows almost unlimited variations.
As well as rolling out new products, the EP USA team has also invested time and money making processes more efficient and green, including lowering volatile organic compound (VOC) levels and embracing lean manufacturing principles.
One of the company’s recent more “high-profile” flagship projects was the construction of the world’s tallest climbing wall, at Reno’s CommRow center – on the side of a remodeled old casino converted to the city’s first “Urban Adventure Destination” in a non-smoking, non-gaming, pet-friendly environment.
Injecting outdoor thrills in the heart of the Reno downtown corridor, Entre Prises attention-grabbing centerpiece is a climbing wall that soars almost 170 ft above the second story balcony, with 200 feet of full outdoor exposure.
The attraction has garnered a lot of interest and pro-climbers report a somewhat surreal experience with the peripheral vision of hard angles, glowing lights and sounds of busy streets.
Another recent assignment created expanded facilities for Oregon State University, building on an original project at the school almost a decade ago, and boosting class and recreational offerings.
An additional whole new product line in the works follows EP USA’s securing of the licensing rights, and eventual manufacture, of the “Clip ‘n Climb” concept which originated in New Zealand and has also caught on in Europe as a fun activity for mass enjoyment in the category of “climbing for everyone.”
Participants clip into an easy-to-use harness in an environment of bright colorful abstract climbing structures combining 30 elements based on developing skills and movement coupled with a climbing gym, and acting as an enjoyable introduction to the sport - especially popular with the younger generation in a family entertainment oriented atmosphere.
EP USA is working on marketing and selling the concept in the US with a longer-term move to manufacturing and believes the experience will prove popular stateside in terms of mass appeal.
Other latest projects include construction of two climbing towers for the University of Auburn featuring the hand-crafted work for which EP USA is renowned. As with all the creations, this one is custom designed and developed with the client, in conjunction with factoring in space and budget parameters, as part of a coordinated team effort.
Stollenwork added: “No two walls are alike, and to some extent they are all individual works of art.
“We have master craftsman who work on unique projects like one we did outdoors for a YMCA in Idaho which replicates the shape of the state.
“We continue to innovate and look forward to catering to a growing demand in ever evolving and creative ways.”