Watch Sasha DiGiulian’s journey to ice

What happens when you put ice tools in the hands of a world-class sport climber? Watch to find out.
The Bridal Veil, a famous ice climbing location © Andy Mann
By Josh Sampiero

To the non-climber, the differences between ice, mixed and pure rock climbing probably get a little lost in translation. If you can do one, you can surely do the others? But not so – most pro climbers are specialists within their disciplines. For example, it's rare to find a sport climber who also excels on ice, or an ice climber who's as proficient on rock. But Sasha DiGiulian may just be the exception. The rock chick just got her hands on some ice tools for the first time – and she's already proving pretty handy...

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See Sasha's first ice climbs below in video

© Andy Mann

That degree of separation wasn't enough to keep sport climbing queen Sasha DiGiulian off the ice. The 22-year-old – who has been sport climbing for 16 years – had a crash-course introduction to mixed and ice climbing in Colorado, early this January. Leading her up the route was experienced ice climber Will Mayo.

Once I learned the rhythm, mixed climbing and sport climbing became more similar.

“Coming out and learning something with a foundation in climbing, but adding a whole new dimension to the sport, gives me the chance to be a beginner again, and that's refreshing,” says Sasha. “I didn't know what M5 versus M10 meant – Will put me on the route, and let me see what I could do.”

What Sasha could do was climb. “One of the things I've learned is 'quiet tools' - place your tool on the rock, and make sure it's quiet as you slowly shift your weight underneath your tool - then hold that pose,” she says. “Once I learned the rhythm, mixed climbing and sport climbing became more similar.”

See Sasha's climbing photogallery

Similar enough that Sasha was able to climb some difficult established routes at Bridal Veil Falls – one of North America's most iconic ice climbing locations. “It's one of the most aesthetic climbs I've ever been on,” says Sasha. “Lead climbing on ice is so exhilarating. You're so exposed. You're climbing frozen water. You look at the screw in the ice and realise that's what's supposed to protect you – that's really trippy for me, trusting the gear that's in the ice.”

Her ascent of a mixed route graded at M10 and a water-ice route graded at WI6, combined with her World Cup gold medal and two 9A ascents, puts her in the upper echelons of the world's most well-rounded climbers – and she's only just begun exploring colder climbs.

Tooling up the route © Andy Mann

Nevertheless, she's jumping in with no reservations. After just a week of learning to swing an ice tool, Sasha threw her name in the ring for competition at the Ouray Ice Festival, one of the world's most prestigious ice climbing competitions. She didn't place, but she had fun. And she'll be back for more – now that she's gotten over her fear of sharp metal objects. Says Sasha: “It was hard for me to realise that sharp, pointed axe is my friend!”


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