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Adventure, Climb / November 27, 2016

New to ice climbing? Check out these ice fests.

Written by: Stewart Moore

It’s cold and it’s crazy, but ice climbing might be one of the best experiences you have this winter. Provided you have it at one of America’s best ice climbing festivals, that is, and under expert supervision.

Festivals are a great way to break into the sport. They offer professional coaching, a (relatively) safe environment, and cheap or free rental gear.

They’re also really, really fun. So whether you’re a true beginner or a seasoned climber, mark your calendar for one of our favorites.


Bozeman Ice Festival – Montana

Photo courtesy of the Bozeman Ice Festival.

Photo courtesy of the Bozeman Ice Festival.

Dates: December 6 – 10

Montana’s Bozeman Ice Festival is held in Hyalite Canyon, which is widely considered North America’s best waterfall ice climbing area.

The festival opens that terrain to climbers of all abilities. Mountain guides and athletes teach clinics for first timers, seasoned mixed climbers, and everyone in between. Beginner and intro clinics cost $150, and that cost includes demo gear, a raffle ticket for the festival giveaway, and admission to the evening’s post-climb dinner.

On the final night of the festival, organizers will announce the winners of the prestigious Mugs Stump Alpine Climbing Award. As a result, the festival generally attracts the world’s best mountain athletes.

This video gives a good, quick look at the festival’s history and overall vibe.


Sandstone Ice Festival – Minnesota

Photo by Peter Lenz.

Photo by Peter Lenz.

Dates: January 5-7

Now in its 12th year, the Sandstone Ice Fest is the first of the mid-west ice festivals. It’s designed to appeal to winter sports lovers of all kinds.

Basic, intermediate, and advanced ice climbing clinics are available, as are special women’s-only clinics. Festival organizers ask for a $25 donation for enrollment in each clinic, and expect participants to know how to tie in and belay.

A $10 donation buys access to the whole festival. That includes free demo gear, beer tastings, a chili cook-off, and a community gear swap. For true flatlanders (read: Minnesotans), the festival also features skijoring and winter camping clinics.


Ouray Ice Fest – Colorado

Photo courtesy of the Ouray Ice Park and Rhys Roberts.

Photo courtesy of the Ouray Ice Park and Rhys Roberts.

Photo courtesy the Ouray Ice Park and Rhys Roberts.

Dates: January 18-21

Now in its 23rd year, the Ouray Ice Festival turns a quaint mountain town into an ice climbing mecca. The festival draws athletes, vendors, and gawkers alike to the 200+ routes of the manmade Ouray Ice Park (this video explains what that is).

More than 100 half-day clinics and full-day seminars are offered during the festival. Clinics are available for climbers of all ages and abilities, and are capped at eight participants to ensure quality instruction. Half-day clinics cost $59, full-day seminars are $119, and $5 paid in advance buys a demo card that can be redeemed for all the gear needed.

Nightly events, pro competitions, hot springs, and plenty of vendor shwag keep even the non-climber fully engaged for the weekend.


Smuggs Ice Bash – Vermont

Photo courtesy of Smuggs Ice Bash.

Photo Courtesy of Smuggs Ice Bash.

Dates: January 26-28

The Smuggs Ice Bash is our favorite of the New England ice climbing festivals. It’s smaller than some of the other events, but has a charm at once intimate and rugged. In other words… it’s in Vermont.

The Bash offers 13 clinics over its two days, and those cover everything from introductory skills to the techniques needed for thin ice and mixed routes. Clinics and guided climbs have student:instructor ratios no greater than 6:1, and vary in price from $130-175. Technical gear is provided, and free demo gear is available for non-clinic climbers.


Cody Ice Fest – Wyoming

Photo courtesy of the Cody Ice Fest.

Photo courtesy of the Cody Ice Fest.

Dates: February 8-11

Cody, Wyoming is cowboy country… and that includes its ice climbers. So don’t let “Friendliest little ice festival in the northern Rockies” nickname fool you. The Cody Ice Fest draws some of the sport’s toughest athletes every year.

The festival features several one and two-day clinics, ranging in price from $175-250. Gear demos are available, and gear is raffled off at social events every evening. Oh… and beer is bottomless with the purchase of a pint class.


Michigan Ice Fest – Michigan

Photo courtesy of Michigan Ice Fest

Dates: February 14-18

Yes, Michigan. The town of Munising sits on the south shore of Lake Superior, and the lake ice there has formed the best collection of hard ice routes in the midwest.

The town’s annual Michigan Ice Fest runs for five days and offers both full-day and half-day clinics. Depending on the technicality and length, courses vary in price from $15 to $300 (most full-day clinics cost $150). Gear is included in the price of the course, and access to demo gear outside of class costs $40.

In the evenings, the attendees enjoy climber socials, specialty workshops, and screening of climbing films.

The list of America’s best ice festivals is always growing. To submit your favorite to our next list, send a note to [email protected]

about the author

Stewart Moore

Stewart Moore is a writer and endurance athlete based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Originally from Alabama, Stewart has hiked over 1,000 solo miles, completing the Colorado Trail in 2015 and a 500+ mile trip linking the Tahoe Rim Trail and the John Muir Trail together via the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016. Outside of hiking, Stewart enjoys trail running, snowboarding, ice climbing, fly fishing, and yoga (subjects which he also finds himself writing about).

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