Climbing in an Ice Land World

Ice Climbing is an increasing and growing sport in the U.S. and is a relatively new form of outdoor recreation. The roots of ascending on ice can be traced back to the 19th century of European mountaineering, and ice climbing was not a sport on its own—it was simply a part of mountaineering. Ice climbing than began to evolve more in the early 20th century with the evolution of equipment such as the design of the ice tool and protruding front-points on crampons by Grivel in 1932. Presently, climbers of all ages travel around the world in pursuit of great ice formations and pillars to climb, and the sport is only beginning. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2014 Topline Report, the outdoor activity participation three-year change for traditional/ice climbing/mountaineering has increased to 5.1% in ages 6 and over. To give you some perspective with this number, the same three-year participation report has shown declines in almost all “traditional” winter activities like downhill skiing (-11%), snowboarding (-7.7%) and snowshoeing (-6.6%).

I was first introduced to ice climbing during the Ouray Ice Festival three years ago, and every year have since watched the athlete’s and participant’s competing or just enjoying themselves (if I’m not climbing myself!). My first experience on the ice was daunting. I must admit, this was something I was not used to and never tried before! But I had some background in rock climbing and was up for a new adventure (although being good at rock climbing didn’t exactly translate into being excellent at ice climbing). We checked out our demo gear which outfitted us from head-to-toe, which I highly recommend you do until you know what equipment you want to invest in. We preceded to the ice walls, and the guide had each of us swing at the ice and really get used to “feeling” what a good swing is. Funny how you think swinging and stepping is something we are inherently good at, but believe me, there really is technique that you must use and you can’t be sloppy. Each swing and each step became easier and easier, and more familiar. Before I knew it, I was looking down at my belay and the crowd below with a reprieve of satisfaction and happiness! I did this, and I felt exhilarated. At the end of my clinic, I was wanting more!

Ouray, CO
Randy and Christmas listening to instruction with their group

Ouray, CO
Ouray Ice Park

San Juan Mountain Guides explain the basics to his clinic for the day
San Juan Mountain Guides explain the basics to his clinic for the day


Now, with Subaru Adventure Team, I’m able to share not only my experiences, but also hope I INSPIRE others to try this sport as well. YES, it’s likely the unknown for you, and YES, you’re going to feel like a newborn giraffe (what are these tools in my hands and things on my feet?!) BUT, I promise you it will be an experience you can say you had and you’ll meet some of the coolest people! From chatting at the booths, to checking out the demos and meeting others at your clinic. Just remember that everyone started somewhere! I’m excited to get out to the ice this season and climb some even tougher routes, and throw in some mixed climbing too! (Mixed means a combination of ice and rock climbing! SUPER cool).

Pikes Peak Alpine School guide Phil Wortmann belays Randy on a mixed climbing route at Lincoln Falls


If you’re interested in learning more about ice climbing, or even giving some ice a swing this winter, there are several ice festivals around the country (and internationally) that have on-site demos and instruction. In fact, most clinics will have specific women-only or kid focused clinics so that you can bring the whole family! Not only will you get a chance to use the latest climbing gear and hone in on your skills, but also you’ll have the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the renowned guides and climbers in the industry. You’ll definitely see Randy and me at the Ouray Ice Fest, so stop by our booth this year and say “Hi”. We’ll have raffles, swag and hot cocoa to warm all the attendees!

Here is a short list of some of the ice festivals, but also do some online searching for areas closer to you, or check out UIAA for events around the world. If you’re really amped up and ready to go, you can always set-up a private climb with a certified guide, and I’ve listed a resource for you as well. Just be sure to ask about the availability of demo gear and ask questions on what to expect. People are willing to answer your questions and help you! So get involved this winter, and we’ll catch you on the ice!

2015-16 Festivals and Clinics:
December 2015
UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup & NA Championships (Bozeman Ice Fest) Bozeman, MT
City Rock Ice Festival Colorado Springs, CO

January 2016
Ouray Ice Festival Ouray, CO

February 2016
Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival North Conway, NH
Michigan Ice Fest Munising, MI
UIAA World Youth Championships Rabenstein, Italy

Guide Services:
American Mountain Guides Association
AMGA Accredited Businesses

Christmas is a part of the Subaru Adventure Team, an organization dedicated to exploring, finding new adventures, and inspiring others to do the same. Christmas and her fiancee, Randy, travel the world and share their stories along the way. You can find weekly adventures with them on their social media pages at or on Instagram as @TrueSubaruCouple.

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