What Is Ice Climbing? How, Where, & Gear Needed: Where to Learn to Ice Climb, Plus Required Equipment & Ice Festivals

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Ice climbing is the sport of ascending frozen waterfalls or other ice formations using specially designed ice climbing tools, including ice axes and crampons. Discover where and how to take a safe beginner ice climbing course. Learn about the ice climbing equipment you’ll use during the lesson. Find out locations of annual ice climbing festivals where you can learn more.

Take an Ice Climbing Lesson

The safest way to learn how to ice climb is to sign up for a beginner ice climbing course with an American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) “certified alpine guide.” The AMGA provides certification for climbing instructors in a variety of disciplines. AMGA certification provides extra assurance for the consumer that his or her guide is qualified to teach the climbing discipline in question.

In the United States, climbing guides teach beginner ice climbing lessons in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Utah, New England, Wyoming, and New York, among other locales. The cost of a one-day introductory ice climbing class generally runs from $95 to $350 per day, depending on the group size and location of the ice climbing course. The AMGA makes it easy to find a certified alpine guide by listing such services and individuals on its website.

Ice Climbing Equipment

Most ice climbers choose to use safety gear when ice climbing to mitigate the potential of injury or death in the event of a fall. Some standard ice climbing gear is similar to or the same as standard rock climbing gear, including a climbing rope, climbing harness, and belay device, as well as carabiners and slings. Warm, intelligently layered clothing, including gloves, are additional essential components of the ice climber’s outfit.

Ice climbing equipment also includes specialized gear, including boots, crampons, ice screws, and ice axes. Ice climbing boots keep the climber’s feet warm and supported, while crampons allow the ice climber to kick footholds into the ice or stand on those already present. Ice axes provide similar holds for the hands. Ice screws provide points of protection for the ice climber to clip the climbing rope into, protecting themselves in the event of a fall.

Another key piece of ice climbing equipment is a climbing helmet. In certain rock climbing disciplines, notably sport climbing and bouldering, a climbing helmet (for better or for worse) is not considered an essential piece of safety equipment by the majority of participants. However, due to the unstable nature of the terrain, a climbing helmet is an absolute necessity for ice climbing safely.

Ice Climbing Festivals

Another way to learn how to ice climb or to just learn more about ice climbing in general is to attend an ice climbing festival. Here, you’ll meet other ice climbing aficionados, see slideshows on ice climbing, and in most cases, be able to sign up for ice climbing clinics, which often including beginner ice climbing lessons. Some annual ice climbing festivals in the United States include the following:

  • Ouray Ice Festival, which takes place at the start of January in Ouray, Colorado. This family-friendly gathering includes a huge competition, plus an array of ice climbing courses for novice to advanced-level ice climbers, along with slideshows and other related events.
  • Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival, which takes place in the beginning of February in New Hampshire. Novice ice climbing courses are offered, along with more advanced courses for all levels of ice climbers taught by skilled professionals.
  • Southfork Ice Water Fall Ice Festival, which takes place over President’s Day weekend every February in Cody, Wyoming. This event includes slideshows, competitions, gear demos, how-to seminars with pro climbers, and more.

See a Whole New Side of Winter by Ice Climbing

Ice climbing involves scaling frozen waterfalls and ice formations with the use of specially designed equipment. The safest way to learn how to ice climb is to sign up for a beginner ice climbing course with an AMGA certified alpine guide. Ice climbing equipment (or “tools”) includes ice screws, axes, boots, and crampons, plus standard climbing safety gear, including a helmet. Attend an ice climbing festival to learn more about ice climbing.

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