While most people come for the 118 ski runs and 750cm (24.5ft) of annual snowfall, the ice climbing at Big White Ski Resort is also an attraction. In 2010, the resort’s Adventure Park opened an 18m (60ft) ice-climbing tower, the only one of its kind at a ski resort in BC. The wall is open from 2-8pm Mondays and Wednesdays through Fridays as well as from 12-8pm Saturdays and Sundays. Since most naturally occurring icefalls are located in remote areas, this makes it a lot easier for beginners to try the sport out.
For myself, I had arrived in Big White early enough to see the resort turn four bare telephone poles into a colossal façade of ice and with some past rock climbing experience, I was itching to give the icy-version of the sport a try.
Before I could begin my climb on the day of my ascent however, I needed to get outfitted with a harness and pair of boots with crampons – metallic spikes similar to cleats. The crampons are necessary for digging in and gripping the ice, as natural ledges often prove too slippery to support a climber.
Approaching the wall, I was also handed a pair of ice picks and was given a quick lesson from my guide, Jim. He explained that although ice and rock climbing operate on similar principles, a main technical difference was the fact that when climbing ice, you need to kick your feet straight into the cliff, allowing your crampons to support you, rather than balancing on a ledge.
I then promptly (tried to) begin my ascent, using my picks to hack into the ice. However, I soon found my wrists tiring from pulling my body up the sheer face of the wall. Jim called up to instruct me to hook my picks into the wall’s natural divots and to make sure I’m fully supported by my crampons, so to take some weight off my arms.
The advice proved infinitely usefully for about three-quarters of the wall, but approaching the top, I arrived at a more difficult section with fewer divots. Exhausted, I let go of the wall momentarily to rest my wrists and hung in the air, supported by the ropes Jim was holding below. Although I was nearing the top, my energy levels were quickly fading and I seriously considered giving up and rappelling down.
It was at that moment that I began to hear shouts of “C’mon, you climb like a girl!” from down below. “Shut up!” I mumbled back under my breath, “I’ll show you guys how to really climb like a girl!” With that, I raised my arms back up and pushed my way to the top. The peak of the wall was marked with a cowbell and although the cold temperatures muffled the clanging noise it made as I struck it with my pick, it was still the most triumphant noise I had heard all day.
I rappelled victoriously down the wall, but my wrists were so beat from the ascent, I could barely hold my helmet long enough to take it off. I was greeted by a crowd of watchers-by and given impressed words of encouragement for conquering a wall much steeper and more technical than many natural icefalls.
By then, the sun was beginning to set and I was ready to retreat to the nearby Happy Valley Lodge for some hot chocolate. While ice climbing was a lot more difficult than I had imagined, its even more rewarding. Nothing feels better than being able to look at a wall of vertical ice and know that you climbed straight up it!
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