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Ice climbing – The extreme water sport in winter


IBS Publishing Team

Ice climbing is perhaps one of the most extreme winter sports at all. But with the right equipment and preparation, even beginners can have fun. In this article you will learn what you need to consider.

Those who think that water sports are not possible in winter, don’t have a clue about the power of this element. Because when the weather is right, it is really cold in the mountains so that streams and waterfalls freeze over, then the hour of the ice climbers strikes. This sport is certainly one of the more extreme and requires a fair amount of courage. Nevertheless, anyone can try it once with the right equipment and preparation. Fun and an adrenaline rush are pre-programmed in any case.

The equipment

Unlike normal climbing in the mountains, where you work your way up the rocks, climbing in the ice requires quite a bit more equipment. Ropes, harnesses, helmets, carabiners, ice axes, crampons, ice screws, gloves – the list is long. All of this, of course, is to ensure the highest possible level of safety for climbers. After all, ice behaves completely differently than stone, it is more brittle, and the way in which safety hooks are attached also differs due to the material.


If falls on rock are usually not a big problem because you can find a foothold in the rope again after a short time, the distances between the belays on ice are usually much greater, so the falls are deeper and potentially more dangerous. In addition, with crampons and ice axes in themselves as dangerous objects in a fall further increase the risk of injury. So caution is advised and you should really pay attention to every step when climbing!

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Frozen rivers and streams invite everyone to try out ice climbing (Quelle: Pexels/Edouard Matte)

The preparation

If you already have experience in rock climbing as part of a rope team, the step to ice climbing is naturally easier. Because the procedure and securing on the rope hardly differ from normal climbing. But even beginners can quickly learn here what to pay attention to. In any case, an experienced companion should be along for the ride!


The condition of the ground deserves special attention. Because not all ice is the same, it changes depending on the time of day, temperature and sunlight. Before you start, you should familiarize yourself with the conditions. For both the climber and the belayer on the ground, the use of ice axes and crampons can loosen larger chunks of ice. The correct positioning is therefore important to minimize the risk here.

The technique

The climbing technique itself is again not very different from rock climbing. The movement sequence is almost identical, although in ice climbing there are no handholds in the wall, but you have to move upwards using the ice axe and the crampons. It may take some overcoming to gain confidence in the ice. But in fact, it holds its own body weight effortlessly.


There is a difference in the climbing position. It is important to have a stable posture, shoulder width in the wall. For the use of ice axes and crampons you need the right technique and some experience, but you gain it during climbing. The tools should be driven into the ice neither too deep nor too weak, plus the setting of the ice screws plus belaying hooks. This additional effort costs strength, ice climbing is therefore physically more demanding than normal climbing on the rock, plus the cold.

The place

Ice climbing is, of course, only possible where the conditions are right. It takes a waterfall and the right temperatures of well below zero degrees to freeze the flowing water into ice. Suitable locations can be found, for example, in Switzerland’s Engadine. In the village of Pontresina, there is an ice wall that can be reached directly from the village, which is even specially prepared for ice climbers with ready-planned tours. The Stubaital in Austria or the Aosta Valley in Italy also offer perfect conditions for ice climbers during the winter months.


Even if ice climbing sounds very difficult at first, with the right equipment and technique, even beginners can dare to climb on the ice.

Source Cover Image: Pexels / eberhard grosgasteiger