Why some B.C. trampoline parks are bouncing out of the business

Squamish’s trampoline centre, Airhouse, is experiencing some of the same pressures that shuttered Whistler Bounce, which closed for good on July 22, after almost seven years in business.

Bounce’s co-owner and operator John Dunbar said that financial pressures forced the closure. Up until this year, insurance fees stayed relatively stable through the years of operation, at around $16,000 a year. But this year, that figure grew astronomically — to around $100,000 a year.  The decision to close was a “no-brainer,” Dunbar said. “The decision was made for me. There was no way I could survive.”

Matt Fraser, a co-partner of Squamish’s Airhouse, said that the staff in Squamish were sad to see Bounce have to close.  “It was a perfect storm for them,” Fraser said, noting the insurance, rent and other operating costs all combined to make the business no longer viable.  “We have seen a big increase in our insurance as well,” said Fraser, adding that the increase is similar to what Bounce faced last year.  “It is not an easy business to be in with the cost structure and the rent,” he said.

As a result of the increase in insurance, the minimum wage, MSP premiums and rent, the Squamish trampoline-training centre — which opened in 2015 — had to raise its rates as of June 1, which was not an easy decision, Fraser said, because the centre wants to be accessible to as many families in Squamish as possible.

According to a recent article in Canadian Underwriter, insurance companies are “jumping out of the trampoline business.”  Contributing factors include “several catastrophic injuries and deaths in the last few years — primarily at trampoline park facilities, but also through provincial gymnastics associations.”

In a high-profile incident last January, a Victoria man died in an accident at a Richmond trampoline park. The man’s family is suing the facility for negligence.

Last week, at the same facility, a three-year-old boy fell almost two metres onto a concrete floor after dropping through a hole in the padding along the side of the trampoline. He was not injured.

Trampoline parks have swelled in popularity in recent years, prompting Dr. Kathryn Kasmire, a researcher at Connecticut Children’s Medical Centre, to look at U.S. emergency room statistics related to trampoline park injuries.

She found that the numbers jumped significantly, from 581 in 2010 to 6,932 in 2014.

“Particularly concerning was the occurrence of severe and debilitating injuries such as spinal cord injuries,” concluded the paper.

Despite their popularity, trampoline parks are not regulated in any jurisdiction in Canada, though in a statement to the Pique Newsmagazine, Technical Safety BC said it is in the process of determining if they should be regulated under its purview. “We have established an advisory panel of stakeholders to support this work and anticipate completion of recommendations for submission to the province later this year,” it reads.

Operating primarily as a training centre, in terms of attitude and operation, keeps the injuries down and seems to make Airhouse’s insurance company happy, Fraser said.  He declined to name Airhouse’s insurance provider.

The Squamish centre employs experienced, certified coaches and all employees at Airhouse — including front-end staff — are trained in at least the basic level of coaching and have first aid training to help reduce the risks, according to Fraser.  “The whole reason Airhouse exists is to minimize injury on the bike park, in hockey — in anything,” Fraser said.

Airhouse coaches follow the Canada Sport For Life Long Term Athlete Development model and stages for their programs.  The ratio of coaches to participants is deliberately kept low, Fraser added, which also increases safety at the centre.  For example, with trampoline lessons, the ratio is one coach for every five participants.  If there is a children’s birthday party at the centre, or other event, coaches keep an eye out for anything that could cause injury and will intervene to show the bouncer how to more safely execute the move.

A second Airhouse opened last year in Nanaimo and a third Airhouse is opening in January, in Kelowna.

While acknowledging there is a risk to trampolines, Whistler’s Dunbar said that Bounce too took precautions to ensure the safety of its guests, including adding thick foam throughout the park and ensuring that all staff were certified through the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association as coaches.  “I did everything I could to make it the safest place possible,” he said.  Dunbar said that it is a shame that the province doesn’t have regulation, and said he looked to other jurisdictions for guidelines on how to exceed safety.

Bounce’s Dunbar opened the business with his partner in 2011, and since then he’s seen a lot of kids come through the door — as well as his own.  “I feel like I got to know every family in town,” he said. “I’m a family man — I’ve got two kids in town — and this is hard.”

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