Gabriel Mercier is a good friend of mine, who started setting with me at a small gym in Brisbane, Australia. After returning to his home in French-Canada, he's now setting in a huge full-service facility, Canyon Escalade. We recently had a quick chat about his experiences around setting, and what he's learned along the way.
Q: You and I both started setting together, and haven't been at it that long. I know I've already learned a tremendous amount, and I look back embarrassingly at some of the things I used to do as a setter. Can you relate to that? Is there anything in particular you've learned about setting, any specific idea or moment, that stands out from that last couple years?
A: Looking back to when I used so set at Rocksports, I realise my idea of route setting was based on my own capabilities and I was overly competitive with my setting. (Setting without considering the reach for other climbers, and setting mostly hard climbs, or setting routes where my reach was an advantage). I understand today that the point in route-setting is to make sure climbers of any level enjoy and learn from climbing in your gym.
Q: Something that I've begun to appreciate more and more and a setter, is how important it is to understand the community of climbers for whom your setting. Everything from their technical capabilities, physical strengths, and also what they're looking to get out of their experience in the gym. Going from our tiny gym in Brisbane, to the bigger facility you work at now, it must be difficult to understand the needs of all of the climbers that you set for. How do you guys stay in touch with the needs of your customers? Is it just a matter of provide enough variety to keep everyone happy?
A: I spend most Saturdays and Sundays doing supervision in the gym. During those shifts, I take the chance to speak to people about the routes, and I've come to realise that whatever is set, people´s opinion will never be unanimous. Some styles of climbing suits climbers more than others. Obviously outdoor climbing here is very different to Australia and we also have ice climbing over winter, so I guess it could have an impact on their preferences...
Q: You've recently had a chance to set for a number of competitions. What does working at a competition teach you about route setting that commercial setting doesn't? In what ways is it different?
A: I wasn't experienced enough to set for such a high level of climbing at the last comp, since we were receiving strong climbers. From what I saw, routes are set in a progressive way to make them the most enjoyable to watch, since the objective of the comp for the business is to get the most visibility out of it. (Holds sponsors, customers, strong climbers, etc). It was really enjoyable to see a couple of competitors to come back and try the 5.13b open finals route...which they couldn't onsight a few days before.
Q: Do you see setting as a career? From a professional point of view, how do you think route setting is perceived in Canada? Is it a legitimate profession, or viewed as casual work that doesn't require a particularly high level of expertise?
A: Route setting is something I plan to improve as much as possible and if one day i could live from I will. The problem is that you must justify why you would ask for a better salary. I think it is good for a setter to find ways, other that setting, to benefit climbing gyms in a same area.
Check out Canyon Escalade here.