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Ice Climbing

These incredible icefalls will make you want to go ice climbing

From naturally frozen waterfalls to man-made ice walls, check out our pick of the best places in the world to go ice climbing, whether you're a beginner or an expert.
By Will Gray
6 min readUpdated on
Plummeting temperatures make tumbling waterfalls freeze and cover steep slopes in sheets of ice, turning dull valleys into climbing dreams, where an ice axe, crampons and bit of bravery can take climbing to another level.
Ice climbing ranges from grades two to eight and most beginners start at grade two or three, but can quickly progress to four within a weekend. That means there are some spectacular adventures within reach in just two days and the better you get, the more extreme you can go.
If you need a little inspiration to start your ice climbing journey, it's worth checking out the Black Ice episodes of Reel Rock:

25 min

Black ice part 1

Members of a Memphis climbing gym travel to the frozen wilds of Montana for an ice climbing adventure.

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It's not easy to find places where ice is reliable, safe and well managed, which is why we've done the job for you, with 10 spectacular spots to try out ranging from beginners all the way up to expert.

Ouray Ice Park

  • Location: Colorado, USA.
  • Active: December to February or March.
  • Get there: 1.5hr drive from Montrose or Telluride Airports; 6hr drive from Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque or Colorado Springs.
This human-formed ice park sits in a natural gorge in the San Juan Mountain Range and has more than 200 ice and mixed climbs. It holds an ice festival every January.
The climbs are formed by water dripping from pipes that feed off the Uncompahgre River and they re-freeze in the same locations every year. They're carefully planned to allow all levels of climber to enjoy some of the most reliable ice climbing in the world.


Will Gadd in action ice climbing in Rjukan in Norway on February 15th 2010.

Rjukan in Norway

© Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

  • Location: South Norway.
  • Active: Late November/ December to end of March.
  • Get there: 3–3.5hr drive from Oslo Torp or Oslo Gardermoen airports.
In winter, the sides of this deep ravine are covered with seemingly endless iced waterfalls, formed when Norway's notoriously wet weather combines with its cold winter climate.
This town sees no sun in winter, virtually guaranteeing good ice, and the climbs are both easily accessible and highly varied in difficulty and length. Top areas include Krokan and Ozzimosis for single pitches and the Gorge for tougher climbs in a stunning setting, including the famous Lipton route.


  • Location: Alberta, Canada.
  • Active: November to April.
  • Get there: 1.5hr drive from Calgary Airport or take the Banff Airporter bus.
Climbing in this area is on natural waterfalls that reliably freeze for much of the winter, offering long and challenging multi-pitch routes for experts and fantastic crags and climbing areas for beginners.
Most climbs are easily accessible and top beginner places are Junkyards and Grotto Falls, King Creek, Johnston's Canyon and Haffner Creek. Tougher stuff is found throughout the region, but perhaps the best, 60km from Canmore, is Ghost River. It's tough to get to, but well worth the drive.


  • Location: Switzerland.
  • Active: Late December to late February.
  • Get there: 2.5hr from Zurich or Basel-Mulhouse airports; 3hr from Geneva or Milano-Bergamo airports; hourly trains from Bern or Brig.
Dani Arnold makes a free solo ascent of the icefall Beta Block Super up the Breitwangfluh above Kandersteg, Switzerland on December 24, 2017.

Icefall on the Breitwangfluh above Kandersteg

© Valentin Luthiger/Red Bull Content Pool

This is perhaps the best and most accessible European destination for beginners, but also offers prime climbing for more experienced climbers, with famous climbs including Crack Baby, Blue Magic and Black Nova.
Oeschiwald and Sunnbühl are great for newcomer courses, but the former also has more challenging routes. Gasterntal is wilder and has longer routes only suitable for experienced specialists.

Helmcken Falls

Will Gadd climbing at Helmcken Falls in BC, Canada

Will Gadd climbing at Helmcken Falls in BC, Canada

© Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

  • Location: British Columbia, Canada.
  • More info: Seriously, don't try this one yourself. It's for experts only.
OK, so this gigantic waterfall is not your typical ice climbing destination, but we just had to include it because it's the most radical place to practice the sport and is home to the hardest ice climb on the planet.

3 min

Will Gadd on Helmcken Falls

Watch Will Gadd make the first ascent of Helmcken Falls, BC, the world's toughest mix route climb.

Canadian Will Gadd and England's Tim Emmett picked off the first climb back in 2010 and since then more than 10 different climbs have been done, two right to the top, including the ultimate ascent known as Wolverine.

Sandstone Ice Park

  • Location: Minnesota, USA.
  • Active: December to March.
  • Get there: 1.5–2hr drive from Minneapolis airport.
Sandstone Minnesota ice climbing park.

Climb all winter long


This man-made ice park has 'farmed' ice on the side of a giant canyon wall to provide frozen routes all winter. It even has lights to let you climb at the night and there's a big festival held there every year.
The low-angle, big-featured area known as Land of the Lorax is ideal for newcomers, while The Stage Wall, the highest wall in park, has more than 20m of challenging vertical ice.


  • Location: Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, USA.
  • Active: December to March.
  • Get there: 2.5–3hr from Boston Airport, 2.5hr from Burlington Airport.
Person in yellow uses ice axe to climb up Frankenstein cliff, New Hampshire.

Ice climbing at Frankenstein cliff, New Hampshire

© Robbie Shade via flickr

This popular region covers all grades and its reliable ice combined with short, but complex, routes make it ideal for developing skills on single pitches in preparation for longer climbs.
The climbs are split across three main areas, which helps spread out the crowds, and the most popular routes are Chia and Pegasus in the Amphitheatre area and Dropline and Dracula in the Dropline area.


An ice climber makes his way up a frozen waterfall near Cogne, above the Aosta Valley, northern Italy, Europe.

The Aosta Valley has hundreds of routes

© David Pickford/Robert Harding

  • Location: Aosta Valley, Italy.
  • Active: January to March.
  • Get there: 1h45m drive from Turin airport.
Just an hour and a half from Chamonix, the parallel valleys of Valnontey and Lillaz sit amongst the stunningly scenic Gran Paradiso National Park and have a combined total of 142 mapped ice routes on their towering walls. The sheer number and variety of routes, which suit all grades, are mostly multi-pitch and often in sunlight, along with the fact they're all between 20 minutes to an hour from the car park, makes this one of Europe's top spots. Click here for a detailed destination guide.

Fox and Franz Josef glaciers

  • Location: West Coast, South Island, New Zealand.
  • Active: All year.
  • Get there: 6hr from Christchurch Airport, 4hr from Queenstown Airport.
Ice climbers practicing at Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand.

Tailored climbs suitable for anyone from beginner to expert

© Alexander Klink via wikimedia

This is more 'package tour' ice climbing, but even so these incredible glacier destinations are worth trying out, especially as they come with the added bonus of a spectacular helicopter trip.
The flights take climbers right up the glaciers to land amongst crevasses and giant ice walls, where these guided trips provide tailored climbs suitable for anyone from beginner to expert.


  • Location: South Africa/ Lesotho.
  • Active: Late May to late September.
  • Get there: 2.5hr from Durban Airport.
Ice climber uses ice axes to scale Drakensberg climb in South Africa.

Drakensberg is Africa's ice climbing destination

© Gavin Raubenheimer

You might not think of ice climbing in Africa, but this region sits at such a high altitude that it freezes in winter and routes are formed from iced streams on south-facing slopes and compacted snow in deep gullies.
The water-ice routes are most consistent at Giant's Castle, which has the longest season, while Sani Pass, Garden Castle and eastern Lesotho only really come into play from late June. The ice routes appear late and depend on good early season snow, but can then last into September.

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