For ice climbing enthusiasts, mid-winter is the perfect time to get up close and personal with the side of a glacier or frozen waterfall. Their tools of choice are the picks, ropes, axes and crampons that allow the seemingly impossible to scale these slick and treacherous surfaces.

Ice climbing evolved out of rock climbing and similar mountaineering activities. In high altitudes climbers had to learn to navigate icy and slippery areas as they worked their way up the mountain or climbed a rock wall.

Today ice climbing is a popular stand-alone sport with its own tools and safety gear making it accessible to everyone. As long as you have good cardiovascular fitness and strength-to-weight ratio, you can do it with a little training. Beginners should take guided climbing lessons and become familiar with the necessary ice tools.

Not sure where to start? Ice climbing festivals in the U.S. have on-site demos that are great places to check out the gear. It’s a safe way to play on the ice and get advice from some of the most skilled ice climbers. You can learn more about the where and when of festivals here.

California

Yosemite National Park has always attracted climbers who go for speed records on El Capitan, but the eastern edge of the park is a popular destination for ice climbers. June Lake is a good place to practice your skills with a combination of ice rock slabs and mixed climbing. This climb is suitable for beginner to intermediate climbers. Further north in the park, Lee Vining is for more advanced ice climbers with longer routes and steeper terrain to conquer.

Alaska

Not surprisingly there are plenty of places to ice climb in Alaska. Valdez pioneered a community of ice climbers back in 1979, and now there are many ice routes to choose from, notably the areas of Mineral Creek, Solomon Gulch, Keystone Canyon and the 17-Mile Wall.

New Hampshire

The state of New Hampshire has an excellent area suitable for beginner climbers at Frankenstein Cliffs, with waterfall ice routes that are low angle. Further into the area the angles get steeper and present more of a challenge, so know your skill limitations. The approach here is short and flat, making it one of the most user-friendly ice climbing destinations in the eastern U.S.

Colorado

Beautiful Ouray, Colorado has Ouray Ice Park featuring 14 different climbing areas with more than 200 man-made ice and mixed climbs. It’s also the site of the Ouray Ice Festival every January. The ice park is in the Uncompahgre Gorge of the San Juan Mountains, and features a variety of climbing routes to cater to ice climbers of all skill levels from beginner to expert. 

Photo credit: Dreamstime