Expert Tips for First Time Ice Climbers

Professional climber Matt Lloyd shares his top tips for staying safe and comfortable

Photo by Keith North

Matt Lloyd climbs Mixed emotions, in Rocky Mountain National Park

Of all the winter sports—the ones that send you flying down a mountain on a board or trekking through the woods on a pair of snowshoes—ice climbing might just be the most dangerous of all.

Scaling a column of ice is certainly risky, but the sport comes with big rewards to match. Professional Climber and sponsored athlete of Perfect Bar Matt Lloyd knows that first hand--after a near-death experience ice climbing a few years ago, he realized that mentality plays as much of a role as physical strength.  

“It's important to clearly assess your own personal ability to achieve confidence over fear,” he said. “Underestimating can leave you stuck in the potentially boring middle ground of not progressing, while overestimating could put you in a dangerous or fatal situation.”

Whether you’re a seasoned climber looking to improve or a novice interested in trying it out, the right mindset is key, but that’s not the only important aspect. Matt shared a few other tips for those interested in trying ice climbing for the first time.

Hire a guide for your first time out. Ice climbing presents some objective hazards not present in the gym or rock climbing outside (that’s why we love it) but that also means there’s an added element of danger. Having someone who is experienced and familiar with the terrain will help you get the most of your day and start you off on the right foot. 

Dress for it. It may sound like a no brainer, but ice climbing is quite cold. Not only is it winter but you are often in the shade because that’s where the best ice is. If you’re cold you wont be able to enjoy the thrill and the beauty around you quite as much. I bring hot tea—bengal spice—in a thermos to help with those frosty moments between climbs when I’m sitting still. 

Start out slow. In a lot of ways ice climbing is easier than it looks—by that I mean the movements are simple and pretty straightforward—swing, smash, kick, swing you get the idea. But it can be easy to get in over your head. Don’t be fooled, ice is temperamental, heavy and prone to falling down. Start off top roping and sticking to the easier terrain. Consider going to an ice park (read: Ouray, Colo.) where you can climb in a semi controlled environment.


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