Defining a historic year: A look back at the 2015 UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour

An enthusiastic crowd watched the inaugural UIAA World Cup in Bozeman, Montana (Photo: Max Lowe for UIAA)

What a season it was for the 2015 UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour!
It began in Bozeman, Montana with the heroic work of Joe Josephson, renowned mountaineer Conrad Anker and their crew of volunteers who made history with the successful hosting of the first UIAA-style World Cup competition in North America.
And the Tour, presented by The North Face Korea, ended tens of thousands of miles away in Kirov, Russia when 22-year-old Swiss climber Petra Klingler made history of a different sort by winning Switzerland’s first UIAA Gold medal.
In between there were other historic moments as UIAA athletes and officials from dozens of countries travelled to Korea, Switzerland, Italy and France, collecting mileage points, winning medals, feeling heartbreak, renewing old friendships and making new ones.
It’s hard to say what the defining moment was during such a momentous Tour.
It was a year, which marked the emergence of new talent from countries such as the U.S.A., Canada, France, Iran and Ireland.
There was also a definite sense of the changing of the guard as the young and the experienced met in titanic clashes and the unexpected happened.
Was the moment when fan favourite and Tour veteran HeeYong Park struggled mightily on a bollard in Kirov, on what might have been his final competition climb, before falling?
Was it when 19-year-old Russian climber Radomir Proshchenko dislodged the veteran Lead champion Maxim Tomilov in Kirov to win a Gold?
Was it when 17-year-old Yannick Glatthard of Switzerland flew across the climbing route in the Saas Fee semi-finals with reckless abandon, confidence, skill and strength?
Was it the sight of Woon Seon Shin of Korea being lowered down the ice tower in Rabenstein, looking to her coach and realizing that a shaky season had been salvaged with a Gold medal win in the UIAA World Lead Championship?
Was it the joy on the face of U.S. climber Kendra Stritch when she won America’s first Gold ever in the UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour in the Speed event, in front of a cheering home crowd in Bozeman?
Or was it the steely determination of 43-year-old Alexey Vagin who won the UIAA World Speed Championship in a thrilling final pitted against the young Proshchenko, showing that experience still counts?
These and other such moments will be forever be etched in the memories of the 2015 Tour, where there was a definite sense that things are shifting.
The routes are getting more technical, the unexpected happens more often and the competition is fiercer.
As Gord McAthur, who along with Mark Beverly, were enthusiastic commentators on the live stream throughout the tour remarked: “The Tour is becoming unpredictable and exciting.”
“The game has changed,” said McArthur.
Such change doesn’t happen easily or quickly. It is the result of the work many federations including the French Alpine Club (FFCAM), the Swiss Alpine Club and the British Mountaineering Council which halve all been putting resources into the development of young competitive ice climbers.
Other national federations in the U.S.A. and Canada have also started developing youth programs.
The 2022 goal to have competition ice climbing as a full-fledged sport in the Winter Olympics looms.
If 2015 was any indication, UIAA-style competition ice climbing is on solid ground.
The Olympic ambition persists.
For all the coverage of the 2015 UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour, please visit www.iceclimbingworldcup.org