Han Na Rai Song was one of the stars and standout performers of the 2017 UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup season. Three successive UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup wins in the lead discipline meant she finished the five-event season on top of the podium becoming the first South Korean female to achieve that honour. It was a momentous year for the country renowned for its love of ice climbing, and one which will host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. HeeYong Park claimed the World Cup title in the men’s lead discipline and then sealed World Championship glory in Champagny-en-Vanoise. There Song, admired for her graceful, balletic style, had to settle for seventh place as compatriot and friend Shin Woonseon retained her title. Currently preparing to defend her World Cup crown in 2018, the 25-year old recently reflected on a terrific season and her passion for ice climbing.
UIAA: The last season was very successful for you. Did it exceed your expectations?
Han Na Rai Song: I never expected the incredible result of the recent season. I was very happy to achieve my initial goal which was reaching the top of each and every route. Every competition was exciting even the qualification rounds. I think the important thing is to have fun and give the maximum effort at every moment. I think this year, I achieved this.
What was the best moment of the season?
The Saas Fee World Cup was the most impressive competition for me. It has been four years since I began participating in the UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour. The first time I climbed in the circular structure of Saas Fee, I thought it was super cool. The crowd can watch the climbers close up and athletes directly feel the heat of the spectators. I’ve always dreamed of climbing in such a crowded atmosphere. I think that kind of strong desire makes me who I am today.
Han Na Rai Song, gold medal climb, Saas Fee (Switzerland)
What was the most difficult moment?
The World Championships in Champagny, as the last competition was the hardest one. I felt sick from tiredness. What was worse, there was a lot of snow. In the qualifications, I had to climb quite early in the morning and snow was falling heavily. At that moment I felt anxious and it was difficult to keep concentrating on my climbing.
You have to deal with tough situations where every move against the clock was crucial. How do you manage this pressure?
When I train before the competition, I usually check my climbing time. It used to make me anxious in competitions. Now I try not to pay attention to it. Instead I strive for a calm mind and keeping a strong pace.
In terms of the route in lead, do you have a favourite kind of route – technical, short, fast, particular challenges?
Each climbing structure has a different style but I think there’s a new trend. Now, the holds are made with various materials. Although it is not easy to control these sensitive holds, I like them. It’s so thrilling and fun. Also, I prefer a long route which makes my arms pump!
The South Korean ice climbing team seem like really close friends and you travel and live with each other during the season. How important in your success and enjoyment of the sport is this team spirit?
I think this is common. In life, when we do something we like, we usually hang out with like-minded friends. We not only climb together but also rely on each other. Besides talking about climbing, we talk a lot about our life. So when we tour Europe, we spend a lot of time preparing for the competition and having fun. I think we support each other and give stability to our minds. And this is very important to me. It makes me feel comfortable.
Han Na Rai Song, gold medal climb, Cheongsong (South Korea)
How popular is ice climbing in South Korea compared to other sports?
There are a lot of people who enjoy mountaineering and alpine climbing. Even though the winter is relatively short and not everywhere is a suitable natural environment for ice climbing, many climbers enjoy trying ice climbing. It is more popular among experienced mountaineers, mainly because people are still afraid of handling ice axes.
How much attention has your success this season gained in South Korea? For example, Woonseon Shin’s gold medal climb in Durango attracted half a million views on the UIAA Facebook page.
This is the first time a female South Korean wins the overall title so this received a lot of coverage. People were surprised that I won on three straight World Cup weekends (Cheongsong, Saas Fee, Rabenstein). I received a lot of tv and newspaper interview requests.
Are there lots of young Korean ice climbers and are you helping them with your knowledge and experience?
Last season some of the young sport climbers began ice climbing. Before the competition season, we train together and sometimes I pass on advise.
What are Shin Woonseon’s main qualities as an ice climber?
She has a strong desire to win and spends all her time and focus on training.
When will you start training and preparations for the next ice climbing season?
Usually after the winter season, I start sport climbing and natural rock climbing. I love outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking and running. From September, I start training for the UIAA Ice Climbing season.
Are you excited that the Winter Olympics are coming to PyeongChang and that ice climbing will be a showcased sport in the Olympic Park? Does this represent a chance to introduce more people to the sport?
I’m very excited about the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. People are curious about the introduction of new sport events. Already many friends are expressing an interest in ice climbing. Even though it will only be a showcased sport, I think we can show how attractive it is and show its potential to the world.
The UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour is partnered by The North Face Korea.