The 2016 Michigan Ice Fest is in the books and 611 participants ascended on a stormy and cold Munising, Michigan for what was undoubtedly the largest gathering of ice climbers in the Midwest ever! Climbers from at least 19 different states and 3 different countries were represented this year, as participants traveled from far and wide to enjoy the camaraderie of Midwest climbers and the chance to climb the beautiful ice formations at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore!
For the first time in MIF history, we set up an exhibitor display and opened registration on Tuesday at our new headquarters, The American Legion Hall. Participants had the opportunity to shop products, interact with athletes, and talk shop with sales reps from some of the leading manufacturers in the outdoor industry. Registration was set up and again this year, our Gold Sponsor Fits Socks hooked up our early course sign ups with brand new socks to keep their feet warm during classes. Thanks Fits for joining us again this year!
The festival was officially underway on Wednesday as several full courses headed out with our professional athletes. New to the class roster this year was a Backcountry Adventure Class, which offered participants an opportunity to head out onto the lakeshore to climb above the open water of Lake Superior. The class also provided some transportation methods unique to the UP, including snowmobiling with local legend “Singing Carl” and riding in the awesome “Forward Frank” tank provided by Roam Automotive.
Roam from Down Wind Sports on Vimeo.
Brutal winds and road-closing snow conditions did not deter many folks who were new to the Fest, as most were too excited at the chance to climb the vertical pillars of Pictured Rocks to let a little snow stand in the way. A casual climbers social on Wednesday night at the American Legion beckoned those that had climbed all day as well as those that had just arrived in Munising, and plans for more type-II fun were made for the following day.
With an unrelenting storm blowing across Lake Superior, participants headed out into the elements for a full day of climbing and clinics. With the single-digit temperatures, many visiting climbers took advantage of the multitude of belay parkas that were available to demo from Patagonia, Adidas, Arc Teryx, and Rab.
Great stories kept coming in all day of climbers hitting the ice in what some would call “spicy” conditions as the storm intensified throughout the day. Many exposed to the harsh conditions along the lakeshore, where they took on the full force of the storm, came back with tales of white out conditions, waves crashing at their feet, and bullet proof ice. All in all, a great adventure!
In the afternoon, there were two off-ice clinics offered. The first from professional climber Carlos Buhler, who presented an interactive seminar on Expedition Planning. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the logistics of planning that trip of a lifetime from one of North America’s most accomplished mountaineers.
The second seminar of the afternoon was both interesting and extremely important, as Asolo Boot representative Henry Barber led a discussion on boot design and how technical features and proper boot fit enhance warmth and climbing performance. Henry even measured and custom fit each participant during the seminar.
Our two evening slideshows highlighted our new venue, The Mather Auditorium. Scarpa athlete Scott Bennett presented beautiful slides of his first trip to the Pakistani Karakoram. With two strong and experienced partners, the team made two big first ascents: Changi Tower (6500m) and the Southwest Ridge of K6 West (7040m). Inspirational to say the least!
Arc Teryx athlete Katie Bono rounded out the evening with a show on her climbing career, living in Canmore, climbing with amazing partners and her first American Women ascent of the Vail test piece The Lightning M13.
We were barely 48 hours into Ice Fest and the stoke was already high!
The evening’s social kicked off with a sampling from our official beer sponsor- The Ore Dock Brewing Company. There’s really nothing we like more after a long day of climbing than to relax with our friends and enjoy a beer. Dairyland Coffee Mile Stout- named after one of our favorite climbs, was tapped and enjoyed by many.
Waking up early Friday morning in the grips of a major blizzard, climbers hit the trails in search of ice. Several groups headed out the Lakeshore Trail, while others walked, skied or snowmobiled out to the backcountry climbs. The fest also saw an increase in participants demoing gear as many took the opportunity to check out equipment and climb in small groups throughout the park.
Most clinics were filled to capacity including one of our newest offerings: the Backcountry Adventure. In addition to the new class offerings, we were fortunate to secure 14 professional athletes — almost triple the amount of previous years — to instruct our clinics and offer some amazing learning opportunities for our participants, all of which wouldn’t have been possible without our sponsors. Even with the cold temps, blowing wind and frozen hands, it seemed like everyone who came through the doors of the Legion on Friday night were all smiles and full of stoke!
New this year we added mini slide shows at the Ice Fest headquarters which offered a more intimate setting to highlight some of the recent adventures our athletes have participated in. Angela Vanwiemeersch told of her exploits climbing rarely formed ice routes in Zion National Park and Sam Elias on Rooted– his exotic trip to climb in Lebanon. Both shows were standing room only!
The Friday evening programs at Mather started off with legend Henry Barber chronicling his storied climbing career cumulating with his amazing first ascent of the Vettifossen a 900-foot frozen WI 6 waterfall in Norway.
Our final show was brought to us by our new Title Sponsor Black Diamond. BD was kind enough to send us Dawn Glanc who mesmerized us with tales of amazing ice climbs in Greenland.
For the rest of the evening back at headquarters, you could find people browsing the booths of Mountaineer Bob, American Alpine Club, socializing with other climbers from around the country, sampling Black Diamond Brown Ale from the Ore Dock, introducing themselves to the athletes and reps that were scattered around the room or, of course, talking about the crazy weather that soon became the common denominator of all Ice Fest 2016 stories.
As usual, we got the ball rolling early with equipment hand out for Ice Fest courses. One of the unique aspects of the Ice Fest is the opportunity to take a course — whether entry-level or advanced — from one the most accomplished climbers in the country. Sent to the festival from our Gold Level sponsors, these athletes work with our participants to give them the tools to be successful. Talented, patient, funny and some of the nicest people in the industry- these climbers are what make Michigan Ice Fest so darn fun (and welcoming!)
The weather remained as a top conversation starter as the white-out blizzard shut down M28 for nearly an entire day, and even Sand Point Road for Friday evening. While most of the country was experiencing “El Nino” we were experiencing “El Tovio”….a real, UP winter that is. Logistical problems aside, everone got to their appointed classes and proved, once again, that Midwest climbers are a hardy bunch.
The demo area at The Curtains saw lots of first time ice climbers learning the basics on some of the many routes that were set up. Cold temperatures and high winds greeted the participants but most climbers were able to top out on their first climbs. Hundreds of climbers were challenged throughout the day with a variety of difficult climbs set up, as morning excitement to get on the ice quickly gave way to afternoon exhaustion that can only come from climbing hard in single-digit temps and Lake Superior gusts.
With a long day of climbing — for some, their third or fourth in a row — everyone converged upon Mather Auditorium for the highly anticipated Saturday night presentation by Tim Emmett and the World Premier of the Michigan Ice Film. Prior to the shows we introduced our 2016 Sue Nott Scholarship winners. Down Wind Sports has created the Sue Nott Scholarship with the purpose of promoting, inspiring, and introducing young females to the sport of ice climbing. The girls had to submit a letter regarding why they wanted to participate, a letter of recommendation from someone other then their parents, and their report card. Three girls were selected this year (triple the amount of previous years!) and were given free entry into the fest, as well as a spot in the Women’s Intro To Ice course. Recognizing these young athletes in front of hundreds of Ice Fest attendees is always one of our favorite parts of the whole weekend- way to go ladies!
With a packed auditorium of over 700 people Tim Emmett started the evening off with an entertaining presentation of base jumping and ice climbing. The crowd was in awe as Tim described what it was like to be able to climb at Helmcken Falls, BC, where a 500 foot waterfall sprays the underside of a gargantuan cave, forming some of the wildest ice formations that we’ve ever seen. Inspirational, funny and motivational — if you ever get the chance to see Tim present- GO!
Finally, the weekend’s most anticipated event was cued up, as Aaron Petersen presented his labor of love, the Michigan Ice Film , to a sold out crowd! Three years of filming culminated into the world premier of the film, which was set against the crashing waves of an inland sea, and packed with humor and action from some of the biggest names in climbing alongside a cast of hardy locals. It is the untold story of one of the world’s largest concentrations of climbable ice in a scrappy corner of the American Midwest: Munising, Michigan. For a lot of people this was the highlight of the weekend. A big congratulations goes out to Aaron and all of the people who devoted so much time and energy to making us proud to be not only Michiganders, but Midwest ice climbers. Haven’t seen it yet? Click the link above to see this feature length film!
After the show the excited crowd gathered on the city shuttles and headed over to the Legion. With an incredibly packed headquarters the evening concluded with the now famous Michigan Ice Fest raffle where we gave out over $7000.00 of gear and clothing to some very excited climbers. Soft shells, belay parkas, ropes, crampons, parkas, packs, tools, screws, and ice boots were only a few of the items raffled off to the biggest Saturday night crowd we’ve ever had!
The classic UP weather finally broke, the highway opened and a wee bit of sunshine warmed climbers as they headed out to Sunday classes and the demo. The effects of climbing hard all day Saturday and a late night of socializing must have taken its toll on climbers as the demo area was very laid back all day on Sunday. This afforded climbers their choice of routes for most of the day.
With all the changes we’ve seen this year and with over 100 new registrants, it was another great Michigan Ice Festival and we appreciate all of the patronage we get from Midwest climbers. We are proud to say that over the weekend we were able to sign up 54 new members to the American Alpine Club, and exposed hundreds of first-time climbers to the sport of ice climbing — not to mention all the professional athletes who were able to experience the cold and masochistic world of Midwest ice climbing for the first time.
As you look back on your Ice Fest experience we ask you to think about the companies and organizations that you saw this weekend- and if you liked what you saw or tried on during the weekend we encourage you to buy local. Buying local in the Midwest supports the reps that came, and in turn helps to keep the Michigan Ice Fest alive and healthy. Feeling some retrospective remorse for not buying those mountain boots? Down Wind Sports is still offering the Ice Fest discount for the next week. Give them a call at 906-226-7112.
We also want to thank all those who volunteered their time, energy, and hard work throughout the weekend. Without these folks Ice Fest would simply not happen.
The reason our event is so successful is because of the assistance behind the scene from all of our sponsors. If you were at the event and had fun, enjoyed the presenters, or loved the killer raffle prizes please drop the following sponsors a note to tell them that you appreciate them and their support for the Michigan Ice Fest!
Dry Ice Tools
The North Face
And finally we can’t thank our athletes enough. Over the years they have shared their expertise and knowledge to hundreds of Michigan Ice Fest participants giving them a solid foundation to help them to enjoy the sport we love and to help keep them safe while out climbing. The 2016 lineup was as strong as it has ever been- to the following we are forever indebt. Many of these athletes are guides and would love to see Michigan Ice Fest participants in the future. Want another adventure? Be sure to click on their links to see where they might be able to take you!
Anne Gilbert Chase
Thank you so much for being part of the Michigan Ice Fest this year! The festival is a gathering of our tribe and we are so thankful that climbers from all over the Midwest continue to come up and celebrate everything that is Michigan Ice. We hope you had an enjoyable experience and you can be sure that we are already working on bringing you the best Ice Fest in 2017! Be sure to keep up with what is happening with the Michigan Ice Fest through our blog at michiganicefest.com or on our facebook page!
NEXT YEAR’S DATES!
ICE FEST February 14-19th 2017