Boulderz BETA SERIES part 3: Melissa Shannon, on operations, organization and connection
An interview with Melissa Shannon, Operations Manager at Boulderz

Walk into Boulderz and take a look around. You’ll notice various signs, the cafe and retail shop in Etobicoke, even floor mats and of course the walls. Melissa has likely been involved in some part of it! As Operations Manager, many of us at Boulderz see Melissa as the main “go-to person” for staff and managers to keep things running smoothly for our members and visitors.

Melissa tells us how she started climbing, what Boulderz means to her and how she spends her spare time.

How did you get into climbing?

I started climbing with my now husband, Casey, when we were dating. After we got married, had kids and moved to Etobicoke, we were ready to get back in to climbing! Five years ago we came to Boulderz and started with an Intro to Boulderz two-week trial membership (which is how many of our members and athletes began, too), and I’ve been here ever since!
And then how did you get started working at Boulderz?
We were coming to Boulderz to climb with the family, and by that point I was ready to get back to work after staying home with my two kids for a few years while they were very young. I noticed that Boulderz was hiring, and like many of our employees, I started as a birthday party belay staff member and then floor monitor. I also worked at the front desk, as staffing coordinator, location coordinator and I helped implement a program for staffing. Now I’m the Operations Manager for both locations.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There is no typical day, which is one of the things I love about my job! It could be anything from handling a customer request, birthday party booking, and member inquires, to moving ahead on projects like implementing the Vertical Life app or following up on suggestion box comments. Usually I’m the first one here in the mornings. I will walk around to check everything out, see if there are any messages from the night before, and then get started working on anything that has come up or work on any new projects and programs. I also work with any school groups who book a field trip to Boulderz. We are Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and Peel District School Board approved vendors! I look to make sure we are maintaining the continuity of both gyms, so I will have regular catch-ups with the location coordinators. I help coordinate regular key staff meetings. I’m also a member of the health and safety committee, i.e. making sure staff are safe when setting, wearing hearing protection when working with drills, etc. And it’s also an important part of my job to chat with members, getting to know regular climbers and listen to suggestions about what would make things better/easier/nicer for them. I enjoy being here on weekday evenings to climb and chat with people, too — it’s good to see how people use the gym.

What is the best thing about Boulderz in your opinion?
We are always trying to make Boulderz the best gym for everyone at any age. Our kids area is amazing for young climbers — it even has a slide for kids (and adults too)! We have so much to offer: bouldering, rope climbing, auto-belays, traverse wall, treadwalls, moon board, and weight training area. We are continually looking to put best practices into place by working closely with the core team, listening to member feedback, watching how people interact with the gym, and keeping up with what is changing and new in the industry. We have found that the appetite for climbing from the general public is increasing thanks to documentaries like Dawn Wall and Free Solo. Many people find out about Boulderz through birthday parties or through friends and we are excited to see them keep coming back.
What is something you’re proud of at work?
I really enjoyed working on a program Girls Empowering Girls we ran with Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment in Etobicoke. They do after-school programs and camps, so we offered a 5-week climbing program at Boulderz Etobicoke. It was all volunteers from our Youth Boulderz Team working with the group from the Centre, and we really felt like it helped the girls to see their strength in a different way and learn to move their bodies and support each other in a new way.

How often do you climb?
I climb 2-3 times per week while my girls train with Team Boulderz. We love to get outside and, as most climbers do, we got a taste of outdoor climbing by going with other climbers who were willing to take us and set up all the ropes for us. Casey and I knew we wanted to take our kids outdoor climbing on our own, so we took the Top Rope Anchor Building and Rappelling course with Leslie at On The Rocks. On The Rocks has worked with Boulderz for over 6 years with our Youth Competitive Team, taking them outdoor climbing during our Summer Camp.

What’s new & exciting at Boulderz that you can tell us about?
In 2018, Brent & Kate from Canadian Adaptive Climbing taught Boulderz Staff how to work with adaptive participants. We wanted to be able to support diverse members our community. From this came our Adaptive Rock Climbing Program that we currently have, where we are able to work with adaptive climbers, i.e. helping climbers with special needs such as sight loss, or climbers who use wheelchairs, or climbers who have autism or ADHD. And we just launched the Vertical Life app at Boulderz, which was a big project but is really great and people are loving it so far.

What would people be surprised to learn about Boulderz? 

I think people would be surprised to know how big our team is! We have 60+ staff members between both locations. Of course there are seasonal fluctuations, i.e. students often help out during summer & winter breaks and for camps.
And lastly, what do you do in your free time when you’re not at Boulderz or climbing somewhere else?
I love photography and creating memory books. I also love being active and experiencing new things. I climb, rollerblade, bicycle, and plan fun activities for my kids and family.