Ice climbing complexes around the world help introduce sport to a wider audience


Indoor ice climbing in the heart of London at the Vertical Chill ice wall (Photo: Vertical Chill

If you’ve ever felt the urge to stick an axe or a pair of crampons on an ice wall, you don’t have to head to the nearest frozen waterfall.

A growing number of venues around the world, some in the unlikeliest of places, have begun to popularize ice climbing, often to people trying it for the first time.

Consider the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven which is tucked away in the village of Kinlochleven, sandwiched between Ben Nevis and Glencoe in Scotland. The venue bills itself as the “World’s Biggest Indoor Ice Climbing Wall”, with 500 tonnes of real snow and ice towering to a height of 50 feet with challenges for both beginner and expert with challenges that include easy angled walls, steep walls, corners and overhanging or dry tooling walls.

By contrast, there’s the small-town feel of the Rocktown Climbing Gymin Oklahoma City. Here, ice climbing aficionados with nothing more than a garden hose, some chain link fence and a 40 feet tall grain silo, coupled with a three to four day cold snap and plenty of initiative have created the area’s only “ice corridor.”

It’s like climbing with knives,” local climber Eric Gibson says as he tries to explain the sport to first timers and curious TV reporters.

Facilities like the one in Oklahoma City are seasonal because they are located outdoors, but others like the Vertical Chill in the heart of central London and the Beaver Ice Wall in The Hague in the Netherlands have the potential to be a training ground for future athletes – especially Speed climbers.
Vertical Chill is part of a chain of four complexes in London, Leeds, Manchester and Milton Keynes. Many are commercial operations, some are outdoor camps and they’ve begun to show up in other countries such as CanadaEnglandNetherlands,Korea and New Zealand.

Going through the basics at 02 indoor ice climbing complex in Seoul, Korea (Photo: O2)
“It shows that ice climbing is a big and global sport,” said UIAA Executive Board member Thomas Kähr who is encouraged by every new entrant. “It’s a way to introduce ice climbing to a wider audience.”

Kähr notes that it’s all happening at an exciting time in the development of ice climbing as a competitive sport including the growing number of countries which participate in UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup and World Championships.

Highlights from the 2014 ice climbing calendar include:

  • 2014 was the year when the dream of the UIAA – International Mountaineering and Climbing to one day have ice climbing as part of the Winter Olympics received a huge boost after the sport was featured at Olympic Park during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Part of the Ice Climbing Festival, it included a Speed wall and a Lead structure, built with the generous support of sponsor Sberbank, which saw thousands of visitors and Olympic officials witness ice climbing and dry tooling for the first time.
  • Para-iceclimbing made its debut in Ufa Russia when the Russian Mountaineering Federation invited a group of athletes from the local alpine club with disabilities to do some para-iceclimbing on the Speed wall during a break in the UIAA World Cup.
  • Record number of online viewers watched the online live-streaming of the UIAA World Cup in Saas Fee, Switzerland.
  • The 2nd World Youth Ice Climbing Championships was held in Champagny-en-Vanoise, Fance following on the heels of the first event in Saas Grund, Switzerland in 2013. Countries like the Czech Republic have expressed interest in hosting future events.
  • Exciting and strong young climbers from Switzerland, Slovenia, the U.S.A., Korea and France have begun to challenge the traditional dominance of Russian climbers.
  • The UIAA Open North American Championship in Bozeman, Montana in December 2013 was the first step for having it included as a U.S. stop for the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup.
  • UIAA ice climbing has the support of Goldwin Korea, the official license partner of The North Face in Korea to champion and develop the sport of competitive ice climbing.

For more information about competitive ice climbing, the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup, World Championships and the World Youth Ice Climbing Championships, please visit www.iceclimbingworldcup.orgor email