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Climbers and newbies gathering for the Southern Ontario Ice Festival

Event has exploded in popularity in recent years

Back in 2015, a ragtag group of climbers got together in busy downtown Maynooth, Ontario (pop. 4078) to spend some quality time climbing slabs of ice followed by hoisting a few beverages and expressing a mutual passion for the sport of ice climbing. Five years later and the festival has grown exponentially as upwards of 250 of the pick-and-axe set are set to converge on the weekend of Feb. 7-8 for the Southern Ontario Ice Festival. 

“It was initially started as a semi-formal gathering of all the passionate ice climbers in the area to just climb together and share a beer afterwards over some tunes,” says Peter Hoang, who founded the festival with Andriy Kolos and Josh Smith. 

The festival now features clinics, slideshows, dinners, socials and, well, climbing. And lots of it. It’s also now about bringing more people into the sport and giving back to the community. 

“The annual gathering of climbers has since then grown to be a community project and initiative to help drop barriers into ice climbing,” says Hoang. “The places we visit for climbing are often underfunded, so we're using the festival as a catalyst to give back.”

Although the Ontario winter has been mild, the freeze-thaw cycles that have been predominant this year actually make for better ice climbing. So, the organizers are stoked. 

“Melting snow means a lot of base water, and flash freezes create ice climbs. If it's too cold for a pre-longed period, there's no water content for the ice climbs,” Hoang says. “The venues where we host the event already have a very solid base, so we're excited about that this year!”

The clinics, according to Hoang, are by far the most popular and sell out each year. The cost is kept to a minimum, so the entry point to try ice climbing is greatly reduced. 

The climbing hub for the festival will be around the Diamond Lake area south of the town of Combermere. The social stuff happens at the Arlington Hotel. 

The largest town in the area is Bancroft, a cottage-town in the summer months, which attracts ice climbers from the Greater Toronto Area over the winter. But people come from as far as Michigan and beyond to attend the festival. 

The local scene is fairly small but very tight,” Hoang says. “Bancroft's one of the closest venues with consistent ice, so it's the hub. And many local climbers will venture to the US and Quebec when longer stretches of time are available to swing tools.

Although the festival is a must for experienced ice climbers in the area, it’s also a great way to pick up a new sport for the winter months. 

“If you have zero experience ice climbing and want to figure out what the sport is about in a welcoming environment, this is the place to be,” Hoang says. “All the proceeds from the event go back into the community, so you can also feel good about attending in that regard.”

All photos by Photos @ariel.estulin

 

 

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