Ice thrills competitors of first-ever youth event

President of the UIAA Youth Commission, Anne Arran, interviewed three key people involved with the first ever UIAA European Youth Ice Climbing Championship which took place from January 16 to 17 in Saas Grund, Switzerland.

She spoke to the winner of the women’s competition, a former World Cup star coaching at the event and a route setter.

Liubov Mikryukova, age 16, women’s winner

Liubov, aged 16, grew up in chilly Kirov, Russia and started rock climbing six years ago when she was just ten. It wasn’t until the age of 14 that she started ice climbing. “Ice is my favourite. I was inspired by seeing an Ice World Cup and thought I’d like to try it. It’s incredible, it’s mine, I have unusual feelings for it!” I asked Luibov a few questions about how she is able to thrive in this harsher sporting environment, and about the first European Ice climbing Youth Championship.

What about the competition here – how was it?
Here in Saas Grund I like all the routes, rock and Ice but my hands are like ice when I clip so it’s hard. But the comp is amazing, very exciting good routes on ice and the rocks.

Have you led any ice falls outside?
So far I have only done routes with bolts or preplaced ice screws. We only do ice in the winter. At home there is a wall where we can climb all year and it has holds for climbing with ice tools. I have only done one route outside, I don’t think it was very hard. In the finals of the competition it was my second mixed M route on rock ever! I have little experience of it.

What do your friends think of it?
I have many climbing friends in Russia but many don’t like ice climbing because it’s dangerous and cold. But I like it, it’s my addiction! 

What advice would you give to other young climbers if they wanted to try ice climbing?
This is not just a hobby, it’s a way of life. It’s risky but an amazing feeling after you climb – must be tried! It is hard to express how it is. Our youngest team member is 15 years old.
What are your future ambitions?
I want to visit Italy, France and Romania. I want to see different types of ice – I want to learn all about it – I am a very curious person. Oh and I want to become a famous sports person and get the gold!
Urs Odermatt – 35 years old, former World Cup winner in Norway –UIAA Youth “Coaching with the Stars’ coach

Urs started climbing in 1990 when there was only primitive coaching.  “You just had to survive but then we had some serious training in the gym. I won a World Cup in Norway but think my best achievement was coming second in the Russian speed climbing championships.”
Top tips from Urs
“Beginners should climb as much ice as possible. If you have a good axe it knows what to do. Hold it in a relaxed way and give a swing with the hand, almost as if you were throwing it. When it bites into the ice grip it and lock. Hang on a straight arm. (Making it only a short time that you are gripping the axe hard uses less energy.) These days you need to be a world-class climber to be top class in ice climbing competitions; to have the [full] repertoire of moves.
“On rock, M climbing, if you have a hook, don’t replace the axe once it’s in. On rock you can really feel the hold so it’s possible to move your hand, but with the ice axe you only have visual control of seeing where the axe should go.

“Climbing on ice is similar to rock but it’s less dynamic and you use the figure of 4 move a lot more. There are many lock-in moves so you need to be strong at this, but training on the campus board can ruin the elbows!

“It’s necessary to be able to cope with very cold temperatures, down to – 30 degrees in Kirov. Those who weren’t used to it didn’t do so well”.
Future ambitions
“At the moment I like very long ice lines with as many pitches as possible! You can have nightmares before them but when you survive you think it’s OK. I never talk about planned trips. My next target is about 1 hour from Zurich. It is the biggest waterfall in Europe – 1800m of ice fall. It has no name – I’m not going to tell you where it is. We have tried it before but the conditions on the top are either too cold or avalanching so it’s difficult”.

More information on Urs and some amazing images of his outdoor climbing can be found here.

The ice and mixed Guide for Switzerland

Gabriel Voide –route setter – the philosophy behind the competition
Gabriel has been the Saas Fee ice competition organiser for the past ten years. He stopped this year to look after his young children, taking a step back to concentrate on the route setting . Voide says “the main idea was to have a European Championship but then we see the climbers are of all levels. We had no idea how they would climb because this is the first competition. The competitors also may be good in climbing competitions but have perhaps only climbed twice before using an ice axe.
“Now they do really interesting moves;  one Swiss climber was afraid to climb on lead, but she really pushed the limits today, I am sure she must have done her hardest climb! We think that 14 years of age is a good age to start because they have a good basis of sport climbing already and also hitting the ice is hard for some of the girls until this age. The good thing about these youth camps and competitions is that it will encourage a new generation of adult competitors. Before we lost them after a certain age.”

Did you make the routes the right standard?
The route setting was pure gambling – after the first climb for the girls we made it much easier and for the boys a little bit easier.

How did you make an ice wall in a car park for Saas Fee?
It took us all autumn to make the ice construction for Saas Fee. We make the suspended ice blocks in a big fridge and then pulled them up so they sit in the roof.