Ice Climbing Courses: How to Get Started

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Interested in an ice climbing course, improving your technique, or prepping for the Ouray Ice Festival? Here’s everything about where Colorado Mountain School guides, what ice conditions you may encounter, and how to prep!

Getting Started Ice Climbing

Most ice climbers begin as rock climbers. Eventually venturing beyond rocks and onto the ice! If you are just getting started or have never been ice climbing before, our Intro to Ice Climbing Course is designed to teach you the ropes on all things ice climbing. From learning about equipment to hands-on experience in the mountains, you’ll be provided with all the tools and instruction needed!

Our instructors provide feedback and coaching along the way, and you’ll walk away with new knowledge and skills that set a strong foundation.

This beginner ice course provides an introductory experience to any student that wants to experience climbing waterfall ice for the first time. 

Stoneman WI4+ PG13 near Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Photo: Joey Thompson

Where We Guide

In the winter months, our beautiful rock climbing areas in Rocky Mountain National Park are often covered in snow. And, we’d fold up our climbing ambitions until spring if it weren’t for the slender ribbons of ice that crawl down the walls. The waterfalls freeze into gothic fortresses. And new venues with new terrain opens up!

At Colorado Mountain School, we have extensive experience guiding ice climbing trips in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. With over 415 square miles of wilderness and over 300 miles of hiking trails, there’s plenty of terrain to explore in RMNP in the wintertime!

Types of Ice Formations

As you continue your journey into the ice world, you’ll learn that ice comes in many forms throughout Rocky Mountain National Park and around the world. These include:

  • icefalls
  • frozen waterfalls
  • rock slabs covered in ice
  • cliff sides frozen with water

In addition, these formations can be manmade or naturally formed.

One famous manmade ice climbing area is the Ouray Ice Park in Ouray, Colorado. Although we do not guide here, the beautiful Uncompahgre Gorge is transformed beginning every November into an ice climbing mecca!

How is this possible? ‘Ice farmers’, part of the non-profit organization Ouray Ice Park Inc., spray the canyon walls of the Uncompahgre Gorge with water, created gorgeous ice formations. They utilize overflow water from the City of Ouray and more than 250 sprinklers!

Within a 1-mile span of the Uncompahgre Gorge, you will find:

  • 100 manmade ice and mixed climbs
  • 11 distinct climbing areas
  • 3 miles of vertical terrain

The Ouray Ice Park is also home to the annual Ouray Ice Festival, which happens every January!

ice climbing

Types of Ice Climbing

There are several different types of ice climbing you may experience when climbing with Colorado Mountain School:

Water Ice Climbing

Water ice is usually found on cliff sides from liquid water flows. This is where you will often start your journey as an ice climber, climbing frozen waterfalls or manmade formations.

Alpine Ice Climbing

Alpine ice is generally found higher up in the mountains and is frozen precipitation.

Mixed Climbing

Mixed climbing is the combination of climbing on both rock and ice. You may encounter mixed climbing more often at the beginning or closure of the ice climbing season. Or, as you progress in the sport and tackle more demanding objectives.

Ice climbing at Black Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo: Joey Thompson.

Intermediate Ice Climbers: Progessing in the Sport

Once you get your feet under you and feel comfortable with the tools and techniques of the ice world, you’ll want to move on to CMS’s more classic ice climb experience.

This is the perfect way to jump-start your ice climbing career, prepare for the Ouray Ice Festival, or just gain more experience in the sport. Select from either our 1-day Classic Ice Climbing Course or our 2-day Ice Climbing Development Series.

You’ll learn how to climb ice more efficiently, and with style! In addition, we’ll teach you:

  • where to find ice
  • how to manage the elements and keep warm!
  • how to be more efficeint with your ice tools and crampons
  • plus lots of practice swinging and kicking your way up frozen waterfalls

As an addition to a climber’s proficiencies, ice climbing provides a whole world of new experiences and challenges.  And, an alpinist must eventually acquire waterfall ice and “mixed” climbing skills if he or she wants to explore technical mountaineering in all seasons.

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