Learning the ropes at Michigan Ice Fest

Nolan Krebs

For over 20 years, Munising has hosted Michigan Ice Fest, the third largest ice climbing festival in the United.States.

Senior education major Steve Goulding climbs a frozen waterfall in preparation for Michigan Ice Fest.

Starting Friday, Feb. 1, climbers flood the shores of frozen Lake Superior to tackle what are considered some of the best ice faces in the country.

“We see roughly 300 to 500 people throughout the four-day weekend,” said event coordinator Nic Dobbs. “The event is centered more for novice climbers, we try to focus on education rather than teaching more advanced techniques.”

The festival, which began as an event organized by a group of climbers from downstate Michigan, has grown into its own non-profit organization through Down Wind Sports in Marquette.

“We bring in high-profile climbing athletes and always bring in the best of the best,” Dobbs said. “We also have slideshow presentations and clinics, and social events every night for people to hang out together and be a part of the climbing community.”

Clinics at this year’s festival include introduction to ice climbing, top rope anchoring and an introduction to leading on ice. Visitors are able to rent gear for the weekend or use their own.

For South Superior Climbing Club president Neil Poglese, Ice Fest is something of an annual tradition.

“The best way to describe Ice Fest would be to say that it is like the Super Bowl of winter sports,” Poglese said. “All the top climbers in the midwest and keynote presenters from around the world show up.”

The premiere athlete this year is Canadian ice climber Will Gadd, who according to Dobbs, stands as the uncontested champion of the sport.

“Hands down, Will Gadd is doing the hardest stuff in the world right now,” Dobbs said. “No ice climber will argue that.”

Gadd, an accomplished Canadian climber and paraglider, holds a number of world records, including the world distance record for paragliding and the first one-day solo ascent of the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies.

Poglese said Gadd’s techniques have influenced his own climbing style.

“[Gadd] has been one of the inspirational climbers that I have worked to model my techniques and attitude about ice climbing after,” Pogelse said. “He is a remarkably strong climber and I look forward to meeting him in person.”

This year’s festival also coincides with the release of “An Ice Climbers Guide to Munising Michigan,” a new guide book by Jon Jugenheimer and Bill Thompson.

“The Munising ice guide is a really big thing for us,” Dobbs said. “We’ll be celebrating the release of that over the weekend as well.”

Whether you’ve never picked up an ice axe or you’re a seasoned climber, Poglese said Ice Fest is an excellent crash course for the sport.

“This is by far the best way to get an all-encompassing approach to the sport,” Poglese said. “You would be hard pressed to find a better group of individuals; everyone is enthusiastic and excited to teach and share information.”

Registration for the event costs $40 and grants access to slideshows. Equipment is available to rent for an additional $50. For $120, visitors are able to attend the festival clinics, which include an introduction to ice climbing, women’s introduction to ice, top rope anchor class and the introduction to leading on ice.

For more information, call Down Wind Sports at (906) 226-7112 or email [email protected]