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Utah's ice climbing revolution

Utah's ice climbing revolution



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah is often known for having "The greatest snow on earth" and attracts skiers and snowboarders from around the globe. But, how often has the other extreme of the elements been mentioned? Ice climbing is a growing hobby for winter sports lovers in Utah that deserves a moment in the extreme sports spotlight.

Ice climbing originated in Europe by cutting steps into ice mountain faces to ascend to the top. This technique was used by Rick Reese and former Salt Lake City mayor, Ted Wilson, as one of the first documented ice climbing descents in Utah. Reese and Wilson later helped to found the company Utah Mountain Adventures.

But, ice climbing as a sport was invented by local Utahn Greg Lowe. Lowe scaled the frozen Malan's Waterfall outside of Ogden in the early 1970s. "This was really the invention of ice climbing in Utah, and in the world," said Julie Faure, president of Utah Mountain Adventures.


The mental game of ice climbing is a lot harder. I'm all about the thinking.

–- Richard Harrison


Faure has been the president of Utah Mountain Adventures for the past 15 years, and during that time has seen ice climbing begin to emerge locally. "We teach a basic ice climbing course," said Faure. "And we get a lot of locals. Almost everybody knows somebody or has a buddy that rock climbs or ice climbs."

Their company also get a few tourists that take a break from their back country tour to take a private guided ice climbing trip. According to Faure, there are about 30-50 people a year that use their company to go ice climbing in Utah.

One of these avid local ice climbers is Richard Harrison. Harrison is an employee at the Hansen Mountaineering store in Orem, and has worked there off and on since 1990, right after he discovered the world of climbing. Harrison was first introduced to repelling by friends, which then turned into rock climbing, and then progressed into ice climbing and mountaineering.

"I was thinking that this scares me, and I wanna figure it out more," said Harrison after his first exposure and fascination with climbing. "It's like a disease; it's progressive and takes hold of your mind."

Harrison talked about why he preferred to ice climbing to rock climbing after he had exposure to both.

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"Ice climbing is a combination from strength and endurance, and it freaks your brain out because you are on a constantly changing medium," said Harrison. "The mental game of ice climbing is a lot harder. I'm all about the thinking."

Some climbers shy away from ice climbing due to the unpredictability of the ice. But Faure says that these fears can be remedied by knowing what things to look for.

"There is more objective danger than rock climbing," said Faure. "You have to know where to go and how to read the ice. You can tell a lot about the safety by the color. If the ice is grayish, the ice is too warm. If the ice is blue, it is generally colder."

The Wasatch Mountains house some of the world's best ice climbs, but unfortunately the sport only last about three months of the year.

"Ice climbing is sort of sporadic," said Faure. "The season is so short. It usually is only the right temperature from December to mid-February."

But Harrison has said the weather this year has been ideal.

"I have been ice climbing since Nov. 15," said Harrison. "The snowboarders and skiers hate it [the weather], but it's been perfect for ice climbing."

Faith Heaton Jolley

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