Extreme Ice Climbing is About to Open Competitive Season

November 16, 2018

International competition and potential Olympic status aren’t even the heights of Ice Climbing.

The extreme sport – which challenges climbers to ascend vertically up icy pillars dozens of feet above the ground in a test of speed, stamina, and precision – is already as old as icy waterfalls themselves. The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) was founded in 1932 and has a global presence on six continents with 92 member associations in 68 countries, representing some 3 million people.

And the season is close, with Moscow prepared to host the first ever World Combined Championships in December 2018. That’s when climbers wear competitive bibs and sponsors host events, and crowds take in every spiked step up the ice with clouds of frozen gasps.

“They’re up there doing crazy moves, wielding sharp tools and they hang on forever,” American Alpine Club CEO Phil Powers described of ice climbers at americanalpineclub.org.

With the sport’s growing popularity, Ice Climbing still has its roots in its wild side and its primitive spark to keep things extreme outside of the confines of governed competition.

When climbers aren’t mounting the competitive runs, they’re out in the most natural of elements; i.e., frozen waterfalls, and cliffs and rock slabs covered with ice frozen from water flows.

There’s more. Way more.

Norway fields a team of ice climbers who take things up a notch by (…how else?) ascending vertical ice walls at night, using flares and spotlights because of course they do.

The sport can be unforgiving as well, as it was even for one of the world’s best. Ice climber Harald Berger – who had famously scaled Austria’s “The Supervisor,” an awe-inspiring frozen waterfall in his home country as high as the Eiffel Tower – tragically died in 2006 while pursuing his passion. During a training climb, a nearly entire overhanging frozen 150-ton ceiling collapsed on Berger, who was ice-bouldering below.

His spirit will live on with international competition heating up now for its winter season. In 2014 competitive ice climbing debuted as an exhibition sport at the Sochi Winter Olympics, and the sport is currently being considered for full-scale Olympic inclusion at the 2022 Games in Beijing.

The World Cup competitions before they’re all said and done will feature six events in six countries over a seven-week period. The middle of the season is dedicated to an uninterrupted run of World Cup events starting in South Korea in January, closing with the World Cup finale on the competition’s return to the U.S., in Denver, Colorado, in February.

The defending World Cup champions are Woonseon Shin (South Korea) and Maxim Tomilov (Russia), who are currently the No. 1 ranked female and male climbers in the world.

“The 2019 season promises to be the biggest and best yet with a diverse and exciting array of competitions and events which will provide athletes with even greater opportunities to showcase their talents,” UIAA Executive Board Member and Head of Sports Thomas Kahr stated. “This (is) the biggest season to date.”

Think ice climbing sounds hard? Check out this double amputee who overcame every obstacle and climbed the world’s tallest mountain.