THINGS TO DO:
Ice climbing for me begins in Nordegg, 174 km (108 mi) west of Red Deer. It’s where I’ve just taken a two-day beginner’s course. This is a sport that welcomes persistence and a comfort with heights. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be as I make my way toward a wall of snow and ice.
The Canadian Rockies in Alberta are one of the top destinations in the world for ice climbing. The course at Custom Outdoor Experience (C.O.E.) in Nordegg precedes the region’s annual, weekend Tri-Ice-A-thon in February. Alberta’s top ice climbing event is a winter tradition that attracts like-minded ice climbers of all skill levels.
Heading for Heaven
Hearing the sharp crampons on my feet bite into the wall of ice before hoisting myself up, it’s a triumph to be headed heavenward. With ice climbing, you put in the sweat equity and rise above your nerves. The rewards include bragging rights and being part of a growing winter subculture.
Tri-Ice-a-Thon is the perfect platform for beginner and intermediate ice climbers, who get the opportunity to practice the sport with some of the most skilled adventurers in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I tackle iconic climbs such as The Weeping Wall with experienced guides and instructors. The event sponsors provide ice tools, ropes and belay gear. I start by relying on my forearms, but as I get better I use my feet.
Accessible Ice Climbing
Alberta is very accessible for ice climbing, given the concentration of routes that are easily available from the road. The province draws ice climbers from around the world, including newbies like me, because the Rockies lend themselves to steep and relatively wide climbs in relatively small areas that feature a lot of different routes.
Nordegg provides classic ice climbing routes along with introductory venues. A novice climber with a bit of experience can get up The Weeping Wall, about 35 km (22 mi) north of the Saskatchewan River Crossing on Highway 93, with the assistance of a guide. It’s a great bucket list adventure.
There are more than 100 ice climbing routes in Jasper and Banff national parks. Kananaskis Country, a 50-minute drive west of Calgary, is prime territory for ice climbs. For courses, check out C.O.E., the Calgary Outdoor Centre and Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in Canmore. For clubs, try The Calgary Mountain Club and Alpine Club of Canada.