Winter can be the season to lose traction on your training, head inside to climb on some plastic, or just hibernate. Last year I got the opportunity to take part in an ice climbing festival and realized the potential climbing outside through the winter. There are several ways to get out on a frozen waterfall, kick in some crampon points, and swing some ice tools this winter.
Ice climbing festivals provide an opportunity to take clinics from professional guides with others of similar ability levels. These clinics can range from working on beginner skills to leading and multi-pitch ice climbing. Festivals also give you the chance to try out a variety of gear such as boots, crampons, and axes—and all this in a festival environment with movies, talks, and chances to meet fellow climbers over a post climb beer. The best in the area are the Bozeman Ice Fest—which just happened in early December (mark your calendar for next year!), the Ouray Ice Festival Jan. 24-27, and the Cody Ice Fest in Wyoming from Feb. 8-11.
If you like to go in small groups or have a specific ice-climbing objective, using a guide service might be what you are looking for. There are multiple guide services in the Cascades, Rockies, and the Canadian Rockies including the American Alpine Institute. Closer to home, KAF Adventures runs beginner ice-climbing courses at Banks Lake and Frenchman Coulee. No prior experience required and all technical equipment is included. The Spokane Mountaineers offers training in ice climbing, usually running a trip to Canmore, British Columbia. This group is also a great way to meet fellow ice climbers. Compliment your desire to ice climb with other important skills, such as crevasse rescue and glacier travel or an avalanche safety course.
Where to Go
Kicking Horse Canyon near Golden, B.C., provides easy access with exceptional quality and quantity of ice routes. Hyalite canyon outside of Bozeman has endless opportunities with over 150 routes with areas like Genesis only a few minutes’ walk from the parking lot. Finally, it’s fun to stay up-to-date on new developments in the sport, as new routes are being put up all the time. For example, local climbers recently started publicizing options in Montana’s Cabinet Mountains. Information about these climbs is forthcoming, so keep an eye on sites like Mountain Project for more inspiration.