If you’ve been looking for a different winter activity to try right here at home (assuming you live in the Edmonton area, lol), boy do I have a great recommendation for you!
As of January 2021, Edmonton became home to its first-ever Ice Climbing Wall by the Alpine Club of Canada – Edmonton Section.
That’s right, you can now go ice climbing right in the heart of the city! No mountains (or long drives to said mountains) required. The new ice wall is located on the Edmonton Ski Club grounds at 9613 96 Ave. and is totally beginner-friendly. If you’ve never gone ice climbing before, this is a perfect—and safe—place to try!
If ice climbing is new to you, I’m sure you have a lot of questions and are wondering if this is for you… happy to report that it is! And I’m excited to share everything you need to know before you go!
Read on for my Beginner’s Guide to Edmonton’s First Ice Climbing Wall!
Note: This winter I’m working with Travel Alberta to try and share various activities you can do around home!
What is ice climbing?
Well, what does it sound like! Ha. Ice climbing is where you climb ice… usually frozen waterfalls, cliffs and other ice formations in mountain areas. You use ice tools (ice picks and axes), crampons (ice points and spike attachments to boots), and a rope (belay) system that helps ensure you don’t fall as you climb.
Process-wise, speaking as very much a beginner, to ice climb, you essentially just kick your feet into ice, place or swing your ice tool to get a firm grip, then lift your body up and repeat that process, while attached to a rope system where a partner is helping keep you safely suspended.
As mentioned, ice climbing is typically done in the mountains which generally makes it not as accessible for a non-adventurer or those who aren’t serious about ice climbing. People who ice climb in the mountains take courses and practice with groups, instructors, seasoned ice climbers, in order to understand how to do it safely because if you don’t do it safely in the mountains, you could very well die.
That’s why having an Ice Wall in Edmonton is so lovely because it suddenly makes ice climbing MUCH more accessible, safe, and beginner-friendly! It gives you a taste of adventure, and a nice introduction to the activity in a fairly low-cost (definitely low-cost compared to attempting ice climbing in the mountains!), low time commitment and again—safe way.
What is the Edmonton Ice Wall?
Tim Hankinson with ACC Edmonton tells me this new Ice Wall was actually 10 years in the making!
There’s a solid climbing community in Edmonton (rock as well as ice) and as you can imagine, driving back and forth to the mountains in order to do this activity isn’t easy.
“Building climbing facilities (rock or ice) in the city bridges that gap. It allows the seasoned climbers an urban avenue for training and allows novices an easy route into the sport,” Hankinson tells me.
The idea for a permanent Ice Wall in Edmonton arose 10 years ago but hit many roadblocks along the way. About three years ago, Hankinson took up the project. Instead of attempting a permanent structure like his predecessors, Hankinson and ACC Edmonton decided to try instead to build a temporary Ice Wall.
The Edmonton Ski Club ended up being part of the conversations, as they very excited about the idea of an Ice Wall located within a Ski Hill/Tube Park. With all of these different winter recreation pieces in one spot, it would create something of a winter recreation hub!
Check out my video of the Edmonton Ice Wall:
Fun Facts about the Edmonton Ice Wall
- It took nearly 3 weeks to build the Ice Wall, with construction starting after Christmas in December 2020 with the wall officially opening late January 2021.
- The Ice Wall measures roughly 10 meters tall and 6 meters wide, comprised of over 100,000 lbs of vertical ice.
- The Edmonton Ice Wall was created following a method adopted by sister ACC section Winnipeg’s Ice Wall “using a board with misters on it.”
- Some sections of the Ice Wall mimic closer to an ice surface you might find in the mountains, making some sections more advanced than others. This wasn’t intentional, but good for the ACC Edmonton to know that they can intentionally build more advanced ice surfaces.
- The Ice Wall is very well-lit, and as of writing this blog post, is set to ‘rainbow colours’ for weekend climbing. The white sport lighting is better for learning.
- The intention for the Ice Wall is to work as a spot to introduce people to climbing (more recreational), but also work as a training ground that then gets people to the mountains. “Right now we are somewhere between both of those objectives,” Hankinson tells me. “We definitely hope to make a taller wall next year but keep a wall that is the same height. We also hope to make some easier terrain next year. Next year we also hope to add something called dry tooling or mixed climbing as a climbing option for more advanced climbers.”
- The ice wall is run and funded by ACC Edmonton Section, which is a 100% volunteer-led organization.
How do you book a climb at ACC Edmonton’s Ice Wall?
Edmonton’s Alpine Club of Canada has a bunch of great options for trying their Ice Wall!
They break out their climbing options for whether you’re:
- New to Climbing
- Already a Climber
- Already an Ice Climber
They offer an Intro to Ice Climbing Course, Beginner Private Lessons, Ice Climbing Orientations, or Drop-in Bookings. They welcome School Groups and they also offer Rentals too. Kids can even climb as long as they have an adult partner! Plus, it’s super easy to book any of these options online. I think they’ve laid the steps out really clearly on their website and I love the different options depending on your experience level!
All ice climbing bookings (except perhaps school groups) is for 1 hour and 30 minutes and there are day and night-time slots. You’re asked to arrive at least 30 minutes before your climb to sort out gear, rentals, etc. Drop-ins are $20. Rentals are $15. We did an orientation for an additional $20. Intro to Climbing Course is about $50. And a private lesson is $90 for one person and $35 for each additional person up to four people in one private lesson. So you can expect your first visit (especially if you’ve never done it before, and if you don’t have equipment), to cost a little more. But then subsequent visits would be cheaper. And if you book during the day Monday through Fridays, rates are also cheaper!
What else should you know about ice climbing?
It is a shock to me that my experience at Edmonton’s Ice Wall wasn’t actually my first time ice climbing!
I’ve actually ice climbed on a frozen waterfall in the Canadian Rocky Mountains thanks to my Canmore adventure friends James and Ashleigh—who are seasoned and very safe climbers (and the only reason I trusted doing it in the mountains lol, you need to make sure if you do that you’re going with people who know what they’re doing!!)
Going with my adventure friends in the mountain and knowing what an effort it was—driving, renting gear, staying overnight (most climbers from Edmonton will do day trips to climb which make for *very* long days)—and you know the potential that you could fall off a frozen waterfall on the side of a mountain, all add a lot of barriers to ice climbing that most people probably wouldn’t ever try. That’s why I was so excited to learn about Edmonton’s new Ice Wall. All the fun and adventure, much less commute and effort lol.
For my visit to the Ice Wall with Travel Alberta, I went with my friend Cindy, who was also my photographer and belay partner. Cindy was brand new to ice climbing, and picked it up pretty quickly (though wasn’t keen on the heights lol).
Although I have gone ice climbing once, I would absolutely still categorize myself as a beginner. Especially when I went in the mountains, I didn’t have to belay a partner (James and Ashleigh handled that for me lol) but at the Edmonton Ice Wall they want to ensure both people climbing understand how to belay (you don’t have to tie your own rope knots or get the ropes sorted at the Edmonton Ice Wall, it’s all ready for you to clip in and then it’s just a matter of learning how to pull and/or loosen the rope at the appropriate times).
The actual steps of how to ice climb aren’t complicated once they are explained to you (if you have never gone, or it’s been awhile, I highly recommend you take the intro course or at the very least an orientation).
The difficulties of ice climbing (in my, non-expert opinion lol), is more a matter of getting over mental blocks or fear of heights as you climb higher up the wall, as well as how much lower body strength you have to lift yourself up as you’re kicking, stepping and climbing.
And of course in the mountains it would be also worrying that you might die (lol) but at the Edmonton Ice Wall they’ve set it up so it’s honestly pretty safe (fool proof? Let’s not say fool proof, dummy proof? lol)
I am not guaranteeing that you CAN’T get hurt at the Edmonton Ice Wall but chances I would say are very low—and well, legally I am saying I cannot be held liable if you go and then get hurt lol. Climb at your own risk! Oh also you need to sign waiver forms too so, really climb at your own risk lol. But honestly, felt so safe!
Also: dress warmly! And thinner gloves (with fingers) are preferred over thicker gloves or mittens.
The Alpine Club of Canada Edmonton Section has put together great tips and information on what you need to know to prepare for your ice climb. They’ve done an amazing job of making this beginner-friendly.
I must also shout out to our instructor the evening we tried climbing the wall—Joseph! He was very patient and showed us the ropes (ha ha, literally he showed us the ice climbing ropes lol) in a really clear way.
Ice climbing is a fun and tiring. It’s challenging, but exhilarating. It’s literally unlike anything you’ve done in Edmonton and if you’re itching to try a new winter activity this season, you should give climbing the Ice Wall a try! I guess my big takeaway I hope you get from this post is that if you’re 18 or 60, if you’re not that active or you’re really active, if you’re curious, interested, or on the fence, I think you should try ice climbing. Beginners, pros, kids or adults, I love how accessible this wall is and new adventures it opens up!
As I’ve said many times before in blogs and social media posts, I mostly adventure for the photo (lol) and this Edmonton Ice Wall adventure is no exception. You’re guaranteed some fun photos here!
Congratulations and thank you to the Alpine Club of Canada Edmonton Section for bringing this unique winter experience to the city!
Hankinson tells me that one of their big goals now that they have an Ice Wall is to bring an international ice climbing competition to Edmonton. How cool would that be?! We’re lucky to have passionate people working on amazing projects here. That’s Hankinson and volunteers of ACC Edmonton!
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Disclaimer: I worked with Travel Alberta to get ice climbing content for their channels but this blog is a total bonus!