Can you learn to set in two days?

January 26, 2023    |   by Sabrina Thayer-Head

How can you teach a complex profession, such as route setting, in only two days?


Because this is one of the most frequent questions asked about the B.I.G initiative’s route setting workshops, we sat down with Flanery Shay-Nemirow, our main route setting instructor, to shed light on what is taught in our workshops and what they bring to the community.




So, what is the main goal of these route setting workshops, if not fully learning to set in two days?

“Our introductory course is mainly focused on the hard skills of setting. We teach participants how to use a drill, bolt holds, and safely ascend a ladder. Very little of our intro workshop is about creating movement, aesthetics or personal style. 

There’s so much that goes into creating a good routesetter, and we wanted to remove the very gendered barriers that can prevent people from even being considered. We want clinic participants to have basic safety practices, more information about the career and to feel empowered to take the next step into the setting industry.”


Having done a lot of these workshops as the main instructor, what do you think (or hope) these setters gain from their experience with the B.I.G Initiative?


“These clinics feel so important. First, there isn’t much formal setting education available anywhere, so access to a free workshop can be really important. Secondly, the BIG instructors are highly qualified. We have intentionally found setters across Canada and the US that have years of setting (commercial and competition) experience. 

We also try to find instructors that have some teaching or coaching experience. That, paired with the super supportive and inclusive environment of the workshop makes a great place to learn a new skill. I don’t have any other program to compare The B.I.G Initiative to, but I do know that almost 2/3rds of the [introduction to route setting workshop] participants have found setting jobs after taking the clinic.” 



Since I’ve witnessed what is included in these route setting workshops, I know how much happens in only two days. From setting your first boulder to open discussions about the industry to facing completely new challenges. So I want to ask, what makes you most excited, happy, proud when you give these workshops?


“I love seeing the confidence that happens after just two days of instruction. People seem so much more comfortable with the tools, ladders, and with each other. The boulders on the second day are always set with so much more pride than on the first day. I love  seeing the new relationships that are built as well. I’ve gotten to see a lot of the first moments of lasting friendships in these clinics.”


How about you? How did you start route setting and where do you think you got most of your expertise?

“I started setting kind of accidentally. I was a youth competitor, and was quickly pulled into forerunning for bouldering competitions. There was a lot of being in the right place at the right time. I was being brought out to test the boulders for ABS Nationals, and eventually the Vail World Cups. 

I was a part of most of the US adult championship bouldering events from 2012 to 2018. At some point, I was invited to take part in the setting process. From there, I found a couple jobs setting commercially. Now I just set comps and teach clinics. It’s a pretty dreamy set up, really.”


Interesting! If you would have had access to these workshops when you first started to set, would you have done it? And how do you think it might have helped you in your career?

“Absolutely I would have done a workshop like this! I had so few opportunities to learn in an accepting and collaborative environment. I often felt like I was fighting for a space not just for myself but for all of the demographic minority setters I had seen or yet to see. 

If I had had access to a space that encouraged mistakes, differences in style or ability and community building I think I would have been a lot more comfortable in my career a lot faster.”



Yes. I think a lot of female/non-binary route setters have had to fight for their space in this profession and continue to fight for their voices to be heard. Fortunately, I personally can see some changes in that sense around me. To that effect, what would you say is the long-term vision for these workshops within our community and sport?

“From a routesetting perspective, I hope that having a lot of free inclusive education makes setting really pop. Visionaries come from everywhere. Having a diverse range of lived experience makes people more creative, especially in groups. When we teach loads of people how to set, I hope I’m handing off information that will create a more spectacular next generation of routesetters. 

I really want workshops like BIG to spread far and wide. It doesn’t have to be routesetting, or gender, but I love seeing groups of people take access, education and mentorship into their own hands. I think the shape and style of the BIG workshops shows that climbing is finally ready to start facing its long history of elitism and exclusivity. I think climbing can be and is a really wonderful sport for a lot of people, and projects like this one are just going to make it better.”


Photos by Alexa Fay