The Build Cycle Podcast #020 – Earth Treks’ Chris Warner

“The business isn’t about you. It’s about your team. And your customers … What can you give people that moves them forward?”

Chris Warner has led people to some of the biggest, toughest summits in the world, and now he uses those experiences to motivate and inspire top performers to do better, build better leaders and form better teams. He’s also building one of the biggest (literally and physically) indoor climbing gym chains in North America. But he started out working for pocket change to keep his van running from climbing spot to climbing spot. Here’s how he’s done it!


  • 01:45 – Some of Chris’ climbing palmares.
  • 03:40 – Rescue mission stories and how they’ve shaped his outlook
  • 07:20 – How he got into climbing, and how figuring out how to pay for his trips planted the seeds for creating media of his trips.
  • 13:50 – The beginnings of a business model as a climbing school and international guide service.
  • 20:50 – Switching gears to indoor climbing gyms.
  • 24:40 – How to price your services.
  • 28:30 – The pricing model for climbing gyms isn’t what you think.
  • 41:55 – Do more participants mean more competition?
  • 46:30 – What’s important to him for creating a quality climbing gym and what the future holds.
  • 51:00 – Dealing with failure.
  • 54:00 – Developing great relationships pays dividends.
  • 59:00 – Starting the leadership talks and speaking gigs…over 20 years.
  • 1:03:00 – How does he inspire top performers to be better leaders?

Chris Warner of Earth Treks indoor climbing gyms summitting a snowy mountain peak


Figure it out as you go along. Chris’ early trips were complete misadventures in figuring out how to get to a climbing spot. His end goal was clear, but the path was determined by day to day circumstances, and that’s the way it is in business. You could create a detailed business plan, but the first speed bump you hit is going to require a new plan, so it’s critical to be flexible and able to solve problems. In that same vein, just starting some forward momentum eventually gets you toward your goal. Chris didn’t always know how he’d get there, but he took one step, which led to another…and another…and another. And that’s what we all need to do: just start. You don’t need to know every step along the way, the next steps usually become clear soon enough.

Interview with Chris Warner about Earth Treks indoor climbing gyms

Chris’ pivot to opening the climbing gyms is a perfect example of this flexibility. As the market was shifting from big expeditions to indoor gyms, he jumped on that and opened Earth Treks climbing gyms.

Regarding pricing, Chris suggests figuring out not only your hard costs, but also the costs of actually performing the service in terms of hours, staff and everything else. This is what changes your company from a lifestyle business to one that generates real profit and growth. This is a real trap for us outdoor adventure types, we let our passion get in the way of charging enough for our time and expertise. We also talk a lot about the gym pricing model, so if you’re opening up any sort of membership-based operation, skip to 28:30 and re-listen, there’s a lot in there about how he sets his pricing.

Chris considers “Consequence versus Incidence” when selecting equipment (standard belay ropes versus auto-belay), which leads to a conversation on being focused on your core customer rather than trying to be all things to all people. For Earth Treks, that means catering to the climber that comes with friends and knows how to work ropes. For other gyms, using auto-belays allows more beginners and solo climbers to use the facility, but may require a little more vigilance. You need to determine who you want to serve and focus your efforts on that customer.

Chris’ advice for dealing with failure comes from a place of serious failures. Imagine working for years to accomplish a single goal, and then having that dream wiped away at the last minute. Sometimes the reason is out of your control (weather) or personal failure (not bringing the right equipment). Either way, it can be heart braking, but having more going on in your life helps put things into perspective. That said, proper planning can reduce the chances for error.

Interview with Chris Warner about Earth Treks indoor climbing gyms

That quote at the top of the post? It refers to Chris’ ability to lean on very successful people because he’s built a relationship with them while guiding them on major summit attempts. He took great care of them, and cared about them, so they were happy to help him down the road.

Chris says the four main ingredients of a great leader are passion, vision, the ability to form partnerships, and showing others how to work smart instead of hard. How are you facilitating a process that shows others how to do better?

Interview with Chris Warner about Earth Treks indoor climbing gyms


2 thoughts on “The Build Cycle Podcast #020 – Earth Treks’ Chris Warner”

  1. Hello Tyler
    I always enjoy your podcasts but this last is hard to listen to using apple podcasts. Chris’s recorded voice is terrible. I’m not sure if it can be fixed, but if it can, I for one would be appreciative.
    Best regards and continue the good work.

    • Hey, Gregorio, thanks for the comments. I did my best to fix the levels, but there was a lot of variation in the volume on Chris’ end, which made it difficult. This might be one you’ve gotta listen to with headphones rather than in the car or something. Is it just on Apple’s podcast player? Have you tried Stitcher or If you do, let me know if those sound any better. Either way, thanks for the feedback, and thanks for listening!


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