What is Ice Climbing?

ice climbing

Ice Climbing is a sport that tests precision and speed. It takes place on mountains and waterfalls. When competing, timing and teamwork are the top priority. The goal is to summit a tall surface as fast as possible. Ice climbing is a gratifying sport because of its difficulty. Equipment such as rope and layered clothing will help you conquer the ice anywhere you go.


ice climbing history

Ice Climbing began as a sport in the 19th century. It started as a variation of mountaineering. The first big moment for ice climbing was in 1908 when Oscar Eckenstein invented the first crampon. About 60 years later, the ice ax was created, giving climbers new ways to conquer tall mountains or waterfalls. These two inventions shaped ice climbing into the sport it is today.

Playing Surface

Ice Climbing Playing Surface

Ice Climbers aim to climb mountains, frozen waterfalls, cliffs, rocks, and other surfaces covered in thick ice. There are two types of ice that climbers look for. Alpine ice is found in mountainous environments and is layers of frozen precipitation. Water ice is more of a technical challenge. It is not one sheet of ice like alpine; it is broken up into sections.

Ice Climbing Equipment

Ice Climbing Equipment

Ice climbing requires safety equipment to scale a surface successfully. The list below will go over the tools needed to climb any surface.

Here is the essential ice climbing equipment you should have:

  • Avalanche Kit: Similar to a first aid kit with equipment to survive during an avalanche.
  • Backpack: Used to store equipment as well as food and water.
  • Belay Device: This device is to help climbers scale tall fixtures via a repel system.
  • Boots: Thick boots with good grip are essential to climbing slick surfaces.
  • Crampons: Tools that attach to the soles of boots in order to grip the ice.
  • First Aid Kit: Materials to heal and cover potential injuries.
  • Harness: Device placed around the hips that attaches to rope to secure a climber.
  • Helmet: Protects the head in case of a fall on the ice.
  • Ice Axes: Tools that grab onto the ice and allow climbers to scale.
  • Ice Screws: Used to secure an anchor during an ascent.
  • Jacket: Thick layer of clothing that keeps climbers warm.


Whether you are competing against someone or casually ice climbing, the main goal is to reach the destination, a level surface where climbers can stand. Competitive events are timed,, so climbers will want to speed up without putting themselves at risk of injury. Summiting any surface is a great accomplishment, and a surface covered in ice is even more significant because of the added risk.

Rules and Regulations

ice climbing rules and regulations

Communication is essential for all ice climbers. Since ice is a surface that can move around and break off, one person has to monitor the ice at all times. Bringing a guide with you who knows the area well will significantly help you in case there is an emergency.

Here are the most critical ice climbing rules you should know:

  • Have good communication
  • Bring a guide with you
  • Always have protective gear like rope


Footwork and ax placement are the most important techniques for ice climbing. The French technique for crampons is ideal for low-angle climbs, where all the crampon points except the front touch the ice. The German technique utilizes the crampons for inclines, and only the front points of the crampons touch the ice. Cross-body ax positioning is best for difficult angles; it secures the ax into the ice while moving.

Here are the most crucial ice climbing strategies you should know:

  • French and German crampon techniques
  • Cane and cross body techniques for ice axes on moderate angles
  • Low/high dagger, anchor, and traction techniques for ice axes on steep terrain


Ice Climbing Lingo

Here is the common lingo and slang in ice climbing:

Bivouac: Also known as a bivy, a bivouac is a pause in the climb that is not always planned as an overnight affair. A bivy is usually a high camp and is meant to provide rest to all climbers in that location.

Screamer: A screamer is a type of fall in which a climber falls far enough to have time to express vocal panic.

Timberline: The timberline is the altitude of the climb that no longer supports the life of trees and insects. The height of the timberline depends on the weather conditions of the area you are climbing.

Ice Climbers

ice climbers

There are many famous climbers in the world, but in terms of ice climbing there are few that have been recognized for their achievements.

Here are some of the most famous ice climbers in the world:

  • Ines Papert: Credited with many first ascents as well as over 20 World Cup victories.
  • Maxim Tomilov: Known for dominating the Ice Climbing World Cup

Events and Competitions

The governing body, UIAA, of ice climbing hosts events throughout the year for climbers to compete against one another and showcase their skills. In terms of championship events, the UIAA has an annual Ice Climbing World Cup and Ice Climbing World Championships twice a year. There are two types of events: lead and speed. The World Championships also have a team component.

Here are the most popular tournaments in ice climbing:

  • Ice Climbing World Cup: Held annually, Russian climber Maxim Tomilov has dominated the competition since 2010.
  • Ice Climbing World Championships: Team events are held at this event which happens twice a year, and South Korea has been the number one ranked team over the past couple of years.


How much experience do you need to ice climb solo?

You will have to take lessons and climb with a group before you start climbing solo. Depending on your skill, lessons can take anywhere from 4 to 32 weeks.

What should I buy before ice climbing?

You should stock up on cold weather clothing and a good pair of crampons and ice axes. Other materials like rope will most likely be provided by a guide when you climb.

How do you eat and drink during a climb?

Most climbers bring a backpack with them that has food and water stored in it. Breaks to eat and drink come when all of the climbers have reached a level surface.

What muscles does ice climbing workout?

Climbers get a full body workout when competing. Arms, legs, core, and back muscles are all activated during a climb.