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Don’t Miss These Ice Climbing Festivals

Ice Fests for Novices and the Pros

The first time I ever went ice climbing, I was pretty skeptical. It sounded scary, difficult, and bone-chillingly cold. I was passing through Ouray, Colorado on the way to ski at Silverton, and a friend had brought along a few ice tools and some climbing gear. With a few hours to spare, we walked over to the Ouray Ice Park and tried our hand at a few easy routes. 

Immediately, I was surprised at how much fun ice climbing was and asked around to see where I could go to learn more about the sport. The answer? Ice climbing festivals. At these gatherings around the country, you can build new skills, meet like-minded folks, and embrace brutally cold winter days. 

Tons of ice climbing festivals take place all over the country every winter, with courses and clinics available for beginners and pros alike. Here are a few of the best ice climbing festivals to keep on your radar this winter.

Bozeman Ice Festival

Montana: December 11-15, 2019

As the most concentrated natural ice climbing area in North America, Hyalite Canyon is prime real estate for the Bozeman Ice Festival clinics and courses. Less than 30 minutes from downtown Bozeman, Hyalite boasts over 150 routes in less than three square miles. 

The Bozeman Ice Festival has beginner, intermediate, and advanced ice and mixed climbing clinics, with seven women’s-specific courses across all levels. All clinics include demos of the newest ice axes, harnesses, helmets, crampons, and clothing, so all you really need to do is show up! General mountaineering courses and self-rescue seminars are also available if you’re looking to get a bit more variety in your weekend. Clinic space is limited so be sure to sign up early. 

Hang around town in the evenings for film screenings, raffles, live music, and a presentation by climbers. In 2019, Jim Morrisson and Hilaree Nelson will talk about how they became the first people to climb and ski the Lhotse Couloir in the Himalaya.

Ouray Ice Festival

Colorado: January 23-26, 2020

The Ouray Ice Park is known among ice climbers as a mecca for the sport. One glance at the petrified waterfalls of machine-made ice along the Uncompahgre Gorge is all it takes to understand why. Over 100 human-made ice and mixed routes line nearly a mile of  walls of the dark, shaded gorge.

The Ouray Ice Festival will celebrate 25 years this January and is free to attend—anyone and everyone is encouraged to climb with friends in the park and watch pro climbers face off in competition on Saturday and Sunday. Ouray partners with San Juan Mountain Guides to offer over 100 clinics and seminars for novices and advanced climbers alike. Vendors will also be there throughout the fest to let climbers demo the latest and greatest technical gear. 


Smuggler’s Notch Ice Bash

Vermont: January 24-26, 2020

In 2005, a local climber named Alden Pellett saw an opportunity to unite the ice climbing community in Smuggler’s Notch. The Notch had been a popular ice climbing spot since the 70’s and introducing the Ice Bash helped locals bond over their love of this popular winter recreation area in Vermont.

The Ice Bash has grown immensely in the last 14 years, now offering two full days of clinics on everything from anchor-building to top rope-setting and improving technique on steeper routes. While you’re there, check out alpine climbing, avalanche rescue, and ski mountaineering clinics to round out your mountain skills. And don’t miss the Friday night dry-tooling competition to kick things off—it’s not every day you get to watch pro climbers dangle off FoamIce in the gym.


Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest

New Hampshire: January 31, 2019-February 2, 2020

A trip to Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire tops many East Coast ice climbers’ lists. The White Mountains are at the heart of winter recreation in New England, and what better way to honor that than by attending the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest?

Now in its 27th year, the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest is one of the longest standing ice climbing festivals in the country, even outdating Ouray. Three jam-packed days of ice climbing clinics taught by professional climbers and guides is a sure-fire way to boost your skills and get you ready to go out on your own this winter. Nightly happy hours and presentations will help you connect with the local ice climbing community and hopefully even meet new partners for the season.

Lily Krass is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in Jackson, Wyoming. Her work has been featured in Powder Magazine, SKI Magazine, Freeskier, Ascent Backcountry Snow Journal, and Teton Gravity Research. When she’s not skiing, mountain biking, or trail running around her home in the Tetons, you’ll likely find her whipping up new trail snacks filled with healthy doses of peanut butter and chocolate. Find her at @lilykrass or lilykrass.com