5 beginner-friendly ice climbing experiences in Canada

ice-climbing-in-banff-alberta-canada Photo by Jesse33/Shutterstock

For the average person, getting outside and making the most of what winter has to offer means cross-country skiing, skating and maybe even building snow forts with the little ones in your life—certainly nothing as extreme as ice climbing. Outdoor pursuits like that are saved to the best climbers out there—those like Will Gadd, who’s been named Nat Geo’s Adventurer of the Year and become famous for climbing Niagara Falls. But believe it or not, ice climbing is more accessible than it appears, and there are a number of outdoor companies across the country that are willing to show just about anyone the ropes, providing all the technical gear needed to conquer a slab of ice. 

Liv Outside in Bracebridge, Ontario

Although Northern Ontario is a mecca of outdoor adventure, Liv Outside is one of the few outfitters in Ontario, and the only in Muskoka, to officially offer this incredible experience to beginners. Based out of Bracebridge, Liv Outside offers beginner and intermediate experiences for up to six hours at a time. Beginners are offered an opportunity to climb 70 to 100 vertical feet of chandelier ice in either Muskoka or the Haliburton Highlands, while intermediate ice climbers will be taken on a beautiful hike to some of the best natural ice falls in Muskoka, Ontario, where they will be instructed on various ice climbing techniques, using some of the best equipment, to ascend two separate routes.

One Axe Pursuits in Elora, Ontario

Based out of the small, picturesque town of Elora, One Axe Pursuits offers ice climbing adventures in Elora and Ancaster for those searching for private lessons or groups. Both locations are ideal for city dwellers looking to escape the Greater Toronto Area for a quick adrenaline-filled adventure. After all, what could get your blood pumping faster than reaching the top of a frozen waterfall? The five-hour courses One Axe Pursuits offers are available in two time slots—one starting at 8 a.m. and another at 11—and are suitable for those who’ve never climbed before or have only monkeyed around a little in a gym.

Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in Canmore and Banff, Alberta

Although the Rockies are considered the ice climbing capital of the world, there are still lots of outfitters offering options for those who are new to climbing. Yamnuska Mountain Adventures’ Level One course, known as “Basic Ice,” is a full two days and covers everything from using a top-rope belay system efficiently to understanding the use of personal ice climbing equipment and of course, how to ascend the ice. In this two-day course, top ice climbing guides will also show you the basics, like efficiently using a top-rope belay system and even the basics of screw placement and anchor construction, so you and your friends can one day head out onto the ice on your own.

Canadian Rockies Alpine Guides in Canmore and Banff, Alberta

Based in Canmore and Banff, Canadian Rockies Alpine Guides (CRAG) offers a mix of mountain adventures. But from November to April, their specialty is ice climbing. All of CRAG’s guides are certified through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG), and lead trips for climbers of all levels—including beginners—and at any length, from one week to one day. Even as a beginner, you can choose between various locations in Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Golden, Nordegg, or Jasper. After meeting in the location of your choice, you’ll head to a nearby ice canyon where the day will start off with a lesson in gear and safety. Exactly how much you learn and your ability to perfect your technique will depend on how many days you book, but you and your friends will be making your way up a route in a matter of hours.

Canada West Mountain School

This West Coast mountain school was established in the early ‘80s, and is now one of the leading Mountain Guiding and Training centres in Canada. Their “Ice Essentials” course doesn’t require any previous ice climbing experience, however, those signing up should come with some very basic climbing experience, including knowledge of belaying, basic climbing knots, and climbing systems. Like most ice climbing courses, exactly where the class is held depends on the conditions and is decided as close to the booking date as possible. Typically, the two-day course is based out of the town of Lillooet, about two hours from Whistler, which is close to some of the most reliable ice climbing sites on the south coast of British Columbia. In that time, you’ll learn everything from climbing techniques to ice anchor construction and rating systems.

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