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Circuit-Style Grading: Elevate Your Climbing Experience at Skyhook Bouldering

Climbing grades have always been a hot topic in the climbing world. It's one of the few sports that relies on a subjective grading system, leaving room for interpretation and debate. But what if we told you there's a way to make climbing grades more accessible, enjoyable, and beneficial for both beginners and experienced climbers? Welcome to the world of circuit-style grading, a system that's gaining popularity in climbing gyms, including Skyhook Bouldering. In this blog post, we'll explore what circuit-style grading is, why it's a game-changer, and how it can enhance your climbing experience. Curious what routesetting is and why its important? Click here to read our previous post explaining the basics of setting!


A setter hangs from a wall and waves hi
Riley Kenna, setter and pro-climber extraordinaire, helped us with all of our planning and ideas around setting and hold ordering.

What Is Circuit-Style Grading?

Pretend you are brand new to climbing, walking into the gym for the very first time. Explaining what V-grades are to that new climber can be challenging, and getting them to feel comfortable with what climbs to try their first time in is made harder if they dont really understand what to look for and try.

Circuit-style grading is like crafting a climbing menu with categories of difficulties, rather than relying on specific grades. At Skyhook Bouldering, we believe that climbing should be an inclusive and enjoyable experience for everyone, regardless of their skill level. In circuit-style grading, climbs are grouped into categories based on their difficulty ranges, often represented by colors. With Circuit style grading, we can tell that new climber, "Climb any route in the gym with Black holds. Once you've done that, if the black routes felt too easy, try the routes with purple holds." It takes a big portion of the guesswork out of the experience for the new climber.


The bouldering projects circuit system.
The bouldering projects circuit system. They heavily inspired Skyhook, and we love to pay homage to them, I think they are the best climbing gym in the USA currently. If you ever have a chance to go to one of their gyms, do it!


Why Choose Circuit-Style Grading? Here's why we believe circuit-style grading is a game-changer:

  1. Creating Sustainable Climbers: Circuit grading encourages climbers to explore a wide range of climbs without fixating on grades. It fosters a mindset of enjoying the climbs themselves rather than obsessing over the difficulty. This approach promotes long-term engagement and helps climbers avoid frustration and burnout.

  2. Serving Climbers Efficiently: From an operational standpoint, circuit grading makes it easier to cater to climbers of different skill levels. It streamlines the process of setting and organizing climbs, ensuring that there are enough options for climbers at every stage of their journey.

  3. Reducing Grade Debates: Circuit-style grading tends to lead to fewer grade-related disputes and customer complaints. Climbers can focus on enjoying the climbs without getting hung up on precise number grades. This results in a more harmonious climbing community.


Implementing Circuit Grading at Skyhook Bouldering

We believe that circuit-style grading can enhance your climbing experience at our gym. Here's how we plan to implement it effectively:

  1. Hold Ordering With Circuit Grading Planned At Opening: Circuit grading is a more recent development in the climbing industry. If a gym does not plan their hold ordering from opening with circuit grading in mind, it costs a lot more money to order holds later to make it happen. It costs more regardless, since holds have to be ordered for each color and grade range, many gyms want to save money instead of offering circuit style grading. By planning our initial hold order with Circuit Grading in mind, we can make sure it works well for us and our customers. It also ensures that we have awesome holds for everyone to climb on at every difficulty, too many gyms save the "cool" holds for their advanced climbers.

  2. Routesetter feedback and Buy In: We decided to go for Circuit grading due to our setters pushing for it. We built Skyhook Bouldering around providing the best possible climbing experience for our members, and we know how important the setters are to that! They are the ones who create the art that we climb on, who eat, sleep and dream about climbing and setting awesome problems for our customers to climb on. By giving them everything they could ask for, all the cool Euro-holds and volumes, and then actually listening to their opinions regarding setting, we get a better "product", IE, the climbs our customers get to climb on!

  3. Adaptable Parameters: The parameters of our circuit grading, including range, overlap, and labeling, has been carefully chosen to provide the best experience for our climbers. We'll be flexible and ready to make adjustments based on feedback however! We'll maintain open communication with our climbers to ensure they understand the system we've put in place. Our goal is to make the transition to circuit grading as seamless as possible for Portland climbers who haven't experienced circuit style grading at a gym that planned it from the beginning.


Here's a breakdown of our circuit-style grading:

  • Black (VB-V0): Perfect for beginners, these climbs offer a gentle introduction to bouldering. Whether you're new to climbing or just looking for a relaxed warmup, our black circuit has something for everyone, anyone walking in off the street, having never climbed should be able to do our Black routes.

  • Purple (V0-V2): Stepping up in difficulty, our purple circuit provides a bit more challenge while still accommodating climbers who are developing their skills. It's the ideal progression from the black circuit. Large feet and fun shapes help get climbers up, or across the walls.

  • Green (V1-V3): As you advance in your climbing journey, the green circuit awaits. With a variety of engaging problems, this circuit offers a fantastic range of climbs to test your skills and build confidence. Expect to see more complex movements, but set with the intention of teaching more advanced movements.

  • Red (V2-V4): The red circuit brings more complexity and excitement to your climbing experience. It's the perfect choice for climbers seeking a mix of moderate and challenging problems. Did you know 50% of climbers who have been climbing for two years or more never climb above a V4?

  • Blue (V3-V5): If you're looking to push your limits further, the blue circuit offers a range of climbs that will keep you engaged and motivated to improve your climbing abilities. We have quite a few fun Dual-Tex holds in the blue circuit!

  • Pink (V4-V6): Climbers seeking a substantial challenge will find satisfaction in our pink circuit. With intricate and demanding problems, this circuit is designed for those looking to master their technique.

  • Yellow (V6-V8): For our most experienced climbers, the yellow circuit provides a set of climbs that demand strength, agility, and advanced problem-solving skills. It's the ultimate test for those looking to conquer the most challenging routes. Many climbers will never climb a yellow route at Skyhook, and thats ok. Notice the overlap of Pink and Yellow is only shared by one grade. Yes this is intentional.

  • White (V8-V10+): The white circuit represents the pinnacle of difficulty at Skyhook Bouldering. These climbs are reserved for the elite climbers who crave the most demanding and rewarding challenges. Again, note the overlap from Yellow to White, this is on purpose, to ensure there are enough hard routes for our serious climbers!


Our circuit-style grading system is designed to accommodate climbers at every stage of their journey. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro, you'll find climbs that suit your skill level and help you progress. We can't wait to see you conquer these circuits and experience the thrill of bouldering at Skyhook Bouldering. For those advanced climbers who want to know the exact grade of each route for training purposes? We've got you covered, all of our routes will be up on Kaya and will be graded, but this way we dont have an unhappy v2 climber telling us that v1 felt more like a v2 than a v1.


Conclusion Circuit-style grading is transforming the climbing world, making it more accessible, enjoyable, and sustainable. At Skyhook Bouldering, we're excited to introduce this innovative grading system to enhance your climbing experience. Join us on this climbing journey, and let's explore the world of circuit-style grading together! Chances are, if you've tried it before here in Portland, it was not done well. Not to point fingers, but don't worry, you wont have to worry about pink-green routes, or white-black routes at Skyhook Bouldering. We ordered all our holds planning on hyper monochromatic routes from the get go.


Stay tuned for more updates, and get ready to embark on a climbing adventure like no other at Skyhook Bouldering.

We're here to answer any questions you may have about circuit-style grading or our gym. Feel free to reach out to us at cody@skyhookfitness.com or jamieb@skyhookfitness.com for more information. To see more of Riley Kennas Awesome Setting, check him out on Instagram.

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