The Student News Site of Northern Michigan University

The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

Meet the Staff
Mackayle Weedon
Mackayle Weedon
Social Media Editor

My name is Makaylee! I am going to be a senior majoring in Social Media Design Management. I am apart of the Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority chapter on campus! I love thrifting, photography, skiing and going...

The North Wind Editorial Sessions
About us

The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas Wiertella April 30, 2024

Icy endeavors

Icy+endeavors

Ice climbers return to Michigan Ice Fest for five days of experience

Nearly 30 years ago, a group of ice climbers gathered friends, community members and fellow ice climbers for the first Michigan Ice Fest. The weeklong festival in Munising, Michigan, celebrates what the frigid U.P has to offer — some of the country’s most outstanding ice climbing that no one knows about, professional ice climber Conrad Anker said.

Spanning from Wednesday, Feb. 13, to Sunday, Feb. 17, Ice Fest includes courses and clinics, presentations from world-class ice climbers, a gear raffle and an after-party. If swinging a pick into frozen ice while suspended in mid-air isn’t your thing, the staff and volunteers from Down Wind Sports (DWS) got you covered, literally. Staff and volunteers from the hosting store will be belaying climbers and managing the demo room and wall, where participants can try out ice axes, crampons, boots and harnesses. Co-owner of DWS Todd King said Ice Fest is for the “never-ever’s,” people who have never ice climbed.

“It’s amazing to see people that have never tried it before. I give them a lot of credit. It can be extremely intimidating but they get after it anyway,” King said. “We see a lot of ‘I can, not I can’t.’ Success is not making it to the top. All the big mountain climbers will tell you that the finish line is at the bottom.”

Story continues below advertisement

The surging interest in Ice Fest began with a 71-minute documentary titled Michigan Ice created by local filmmaker Aaron Peterson. Expansive shots of 90-foot tall ice climbing routes along the shore of Grand Island piqued the attention of IMAX filmmakers. They packed their bags and headed to Munising with professional climber Anker in tow. Brands such as Patagonia and The North Face caught wind of the spectacular sturdy ice formations and are now current Ice Fest sponsors.

“They’re all calling us up to see how they can get involved in the Ice Fest. It’s like, I don’t know we’ve only asked you for 20 [expletive] years,” King said. “It’s cool to see the industry give us a big hug. We’ve been telling them for a long time that if you’re going to grow the sport of ice climbing, you’re going to do it in the Midwest.”

Four athletes from Patagonia, The North Face and six from Black Diamond were sent to teach classes and give presentations. Since then, Ice Fest participants have grown from 200 to over 1,000 in a number of years, King said. These world-class athletes travel from remote pockets of the world to be a part of what is thought to be the oldest ice festival in the country. King, mimicking a professional climber, “Yeah, I’m flying into Munising but I’m coming from Patagonia,” the sparsely populated mountain region in South America. In addition to athletes, beginning to advanced ice climbers are pre-registered from eight different countries. King said DWS tries to cultivate a climbing community to get people to not just climb, but to become climbers. This includes spending their time, funds and energy on the activity.

“[Climbing is] a great lifestyle. We have participants ages nine to 70 years old,” King said.

This event is one of the only festivals that caters to the “never ever’s,” King said, as well as the youth population that has ice formations in their backyard that are begging to be climbed. Two years in the making, the Pictured Rocks Climbing Academy is an initiative to get youth in the Pictured Rocks area to climb in their backyard, King said. Ice Fest couldn’t happen without volunteers, King said, adding, they have been fortunate for the organic growth. If one person likes it, they’re going to grab three buddies. DWS is trying to get involvement from NMU as well as the local Marquette and Munising communities.

“It’s tough because when these students are really involved, they graduate and then we have to turn our attention to new freshman who want to buy everything online. It’s a cycle of trying to create and foster this community when new students just need to open their eyes,” King said.

Now, DWS promotes Ice Fest through Michigan college outdoor education programs, King said, noting, Central Michigan University and Michigan State University send about 15 to 20 students each year. Once students start ice climbing, they’re hooked, King said.

“You start seeing these connections and same people year after year. When they’re not climbing they’re talking about climbing or looking forward to the next time that they’re climbing,” King said.

Despite the smaller population, the Michigan Ice Fest sees more participants than the primer Ouray Ice Festival in Colorado. Another difference is that the Ouray fest “farms” their ice, meaning, sprinkler heads feed the ice formations. Whereas in Munising, the climbs are “homegrown” and naturally formed ice from seepages of water through the sandstone rock.

“Every time you climb, a certain feature it’s different — how it forms, how it breaks off. So you can climb at the same location but it’s different every year,” King said. “Ice gets banged up over the weekend but it heals. It rains and gets cold and ice forms, things move and shift and all of a sudden things are different.”

Complete information on the events schedule, courses and clinics, current athletes, festival tips and more can be found at www.michiganicefest.com.

More to Discover