Frequently Asked Questions

The ACA communicates with the climbing community via this website as well as our Facebook page or Instagram page.

However, navigating competition climbing can be daunting at first, so here are answers to a few questions you may have. If you have others, please contact John Haigh at


What are the competition age categories?

For the 2019/2020 season, the age categories are:

  • Youth D male and female - born 2009 or later

  • Youth C male and female - born 2007 and 2008

  • Youth B male and female - born 2005 and 2006

  • Youth A male and female - born 2003 and 2004

  • Junior male and female - born 2001 and 2002

  • Open – male and female - born 2000 and earlier

Any Youth A and Junior athlete may also compete in Open.


What are the 3 different types of competition climbing?   

  • Bouldering - climbing without ropes on short walls

  • Difficulty/Routes - climbing with ropes and includes top-rope and lead climbing

  • Speed


When is bouldering season?

The first part of the season - October through February -  is bouldering season.


When is difficulty/speed season?

The second part of the season - March through the May long weekend - is difficulty (rope) and speed season.


What is the difference between top rope and lead climbing?

Youth C and D top rope climb and Youth B, A, Junior and Open lead climb. In top rope, the climber ties into a rope that is already attached to an anchor at the top of the route. The route is climbed without having to clip draws. In lead, the rope is not attached to the anchor and climbers are required to clip the rope into quickdraws along the route.



Provincial ranking is determined by a climber's best two local competition results plus their results at the Provincial Championships. Any climber may climb at the Provincial Championships regardless of their results or participation to that point. This ranking system is used for both the bouldering season and and the difficulty season. 

Climbing Escalade Canada sets out the criteria and quotas of eligible athletes from the ACA to attend Regional and National events. See the CEC website for more information


Do I need an ACA membership to compete?

An ACA (or other PSO) membership is required to participate at a sanctioned competition.

Your membership runs from October 1, 2019 until June 30, 2020.


Do coaches need an ACA membership?  

If coaches wish to access the isolation area and/or file appeals during competitions, they must have a coaches membership. 

This is available on the ACA website for $10.


Do athletes need to complete a waiver in order to climb?  

Yes, ALL competitors must complete an ACA waiver form before competing at an ACA event. Athletes under 18 must have their waiver signed by a parent. Waiver can be found on the Athlete Registration page.

Each climbing gym hosting an ACA competition has its own waiver form. Typically, athletes under 18 need a parent to sign this form. Athletes 18 and over typically must present identification in order to complete the waiver.


What are the types of bouldering competition formats?

Scramble - a large number of boulder problems of varying difficulty are set around the gym. Competitors choose which problems to attempt and may make multiple attempts on problems. Climbers may share beta (advice) prior and after each attempt, but may not receive beta while they are on the wall. Points are awarded for topping problems and are based on the difficulty of a pre-determined number of problems topped.

Modified scramble - similar to the scramble format detailed above but with fewer and generally more challenging problems (usually 7).  

5-on-5-off - Prior to the competition, climbers are kept in an isolation area. There are usually 4 - 5 problems in this format and competitors neither get to look at their problems prior to climbing nor are they able to watch other competitors climb. Each climber gets five minutes to preview and attempt each problem. If the climber is on the wall when time runs out, their attempt is over and they must come down immediately. Between problems, the climbers get a five-minute rest period during which they are not able to watch other competitors on the wall. Each problem is scored based on reaching a bonus hold and the top of the climb.  

World Cup - This format is used for the final rounds in some bouldering events. Prior to the competition, climbers are kept in an isolation area. All of the competitors are taken to the wall prior to the start of competition for a preview of each of four problems. During this time, competitors may talk to one another (only to other climbers in the finals round, not to any observers or supporters) and share beta. When the climbing begins, the competitors climb one at a time in reverse order of qualifying for the finals round. All climbers climb problem one before they all move on to the next problem. Each climber gets four minutes on each problem and if the climber is on the wall when time runs out, their attempt is over and they must come down immediately. Each problem is scored based on reaching the bonus hold and the top of the climb.


What are the types of difficulty (rope) competition formats?

Flash - Competitors can watch each other climb and can exchange beta while on the ground. No beta can be exchanged when climbers are on the wall. This format is usually used in the qualifier round and often consists of 2 separate routes per age category. Climbers are scored based on the highest hold achieved.

On-sight - Prior to the competition, climbers are kept in an isolation area. All competitors are taken to the wall prior to the start of competition for a preview of the route. When the competition begins, the competitors come out of isolation to climb one at a time in a predetermined order. This format is generally used for the semi-final and final portions of difficulty competitions. Climbers are scored based on the highest hold achieved.


What is Isolation?

Also known as ISO, this is where competitors wait to climb during 5-on-5-off, world cup and on-sight format competitions. Climbers must ensure they enter the ISO area on time. If a climber misses the closing of ISO, they will be refused entry and not allowed to participate in the competition. Note that electronic devices with wireless or data capabilities are not permitted in ISO. Parents/friends cannot enter ISO and cannot engage with a climber during their time in ISO.


Who is allowed in the Isolation area?

Only climbers, authorized coaches and authorized officials are allowed in ISO. Once a climber or coach leaves the isolation area they CANNOT re-enter for any reason.


As a spectator, how can I encourage the competitors on the wall?

Supporters are encouraged to cheer for the climbers, but they cannot call out information or advice (beta) to attempt to help the climber. Examples of unpermitted beta would include “use that hold by your hip” or “breathe.”


How can I volunteer?  

It takes many volunteers to run a successful competition. The hosting gym usually needs people to volunteer for the following roles, depending on the type of competition:

  • Judges

  • Isolation monitors and runners

  • Belayers

Please consider volunteering at one or more competitions this season! For judges, we have training resources and offer mentoring for new judges. For more information contact Mark Kozak - ACA Technical Chair at