Nine members of our ice guides staff participated in a training day in the Ouray, Colorado area in late December.
Long time Mountain Trip guides Clint Cook and Dave Ahrens provided coaching, modeling and instruction in the craft of climbing ice, with emphasis on some of the techniques that are somewhat unique to how we guide in our local San Juan mountains and the Ouray Ice Park.
We began the day being coached on how to teach beginning climbers the fundamental skills necessary to become successful ice climbers. This started with a discussion about modern ice climbing equipment and how teach novices to effectively swing a modern, leashless ice tool. We all practiced the repetition of swinging from the shoulder, adding a flick initiated from the pinkie or ring finger, and how to square ourselves to the ice, while taking aim with our tools, and numerous personal tips and advice were shared by our guides. This was a poignant exercise that demonstrated the huge differences between being ice climbers and ice guides.
It was a chilly morning! We were all bundled up, but took turns role playing and practicing the techniques we use to instruct our guests, which helped keep us warm. Funny thing about ice climbing – it’s cold!!
Building on the skill of swinging an ice tool, we practiced how to teach the art of crampon placement, focusing attention on how to get a solid kick, with the heels low. We then incorporated those skills with lessons on how to move in a sequence that promotes our ability to both see what we’re trying to do (swing or kick), and how to do so from a position of balance. Stepping back from how each of us personally climb ice and approaching the craft through the lens of a novice was very helpful.
As the day progressed, we reviewed considerations regarding building anchors for ice climbing. Anchor choice is a blend of art and science, and one “stock” anchor is not always an option. We also reviewed some of the techniques that are somewhat proprietary to the venues in which we guide, including the “Ouray Belay,” a technique for lowering a climber into an ice route (as is common in the Ouray Ice Park) and then seamlessly transitioning the climber to a belay, without ever unclipping the belay device from the anchor point.
With the sun just gracing us with a bit of Winter Solstice warmth, we then took turns climbing ice routes, demonstrating how we would model for our guests. Everyone was stoked to climb and while a team worked their way up a route, Clint and Dave provided small group instruction to those on the ground, maximizing the amount of topics we covered during the day.
We wrapped up the afternoon with a tour of the famous Ouray Ice Park. Mountain Trip is the only guide service in Telluride that is permitted to lead climbers in the Ice Park and we discussed the Park rules and decorum. As guides, we are tasked to be both stewards of our public lands and need to act as role models for other visitors. Having a clear understanding of what is required by land managers and what is copacetic (or not!) is crucial for us to accomplish those goals. As a company, we invest heavily in our staff and we work hard to maintain a culture of camaraderie between our staff and other climbers and guides. By working with climbers and guides, we can provide a positive experience for our guests and for other visitors.
Clint Cook has guided and trained ice guides in the Ice Park since 2003 and it was a treat to see the Park through his eyes. We reviewed the best areas for climbers of different levels of experience and guides shared their personal favorite areas and routes for building appropriate progressions for our climbers. We inspected and familiarized ourselves with a series of new anchors that the Ice Park Board had recently installed, as well as the best routes for access and egress to different areas of the Park. The Park wasn’t quite open on the day we toured it, which made it nice for us to cover almost its entire length. The Park is now open and is in “full swing” to absolutely coin a pun!
If climbing ice is something you’re interested in checking out or if you’ve been climbing for years and would like to push yourself or hone your skills, there is truly nowhere like the Ouray Ice Park. There are over 200 man made ice and mixed routes spread throughout 14 separate climbing areas, with three miles of vertical ice to climb! The ice guides staff at Mountain Trip would love to share this incredible resource with you, so please give us a ring or visit our Colorado Ice Climbing page.