Q&A: Michigan Ice Fest evolves from ‘a handful of climbers meeting in a bar’ to a world-class celebration
After a hesitant beginning, it seems winter is here in earnest. Colder weather might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s great news for the organizers of Michigan Ice Fest.
From its humble roots—a few friends discussing a shared hobby over pitchers of beer—Ice Fest has grown into one of the biggest ice-climbing events in the country. Each winter, some of the world’s best climbers make the trek to Munising, on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula. Those in the know describe the area as ice-climbing paradise.
With a few weeks to go before this year’s Ice Fest (Feb. 10-14), we checked in with Matt Abbotts of Down Wind Sports in Marquette, who’s helping organize the event. Abbotts urges anyone interested in the sport to join in the festivities and give ice climbing a try—or just kick back and watch the pros.
MEC: Let’s start with the basics: How long has Michigan Ice Fest been going on? And can you tell us a little about how the festival got started?
Matt Abbotts: Ice Fest is put on by an organization called Michigan Ice, which is headed up by Bill Thompson of Down Wind Sports in Marquette. He’s been to every Ice Fest since the beginning. Ice Fest has been going on since the early ’90s but no one is really sure what year it started. It’s one of the oldest ice climbing events in the country. It started as just a handful of climbers meeting in a bar and giving slideshows on the wall. This year we’re expecting around 700 participants and have some of the best climbers in the world joining us.
MEC: Have people been ice climbing in the U.P. for a long time, or is this a fairly new scene? And how big a scene is it?
MA: People have climbing ice in Munising for a long time but it’s really taken off in the last 10 years. Outside of being really beautiful, Pictured Rocks has one of the highest concentrations of climbable ice in North America, so it’s a magnet to those who climb ice. The area sees hundreds, if not thousands, of climbers throughout the winter, so it’s a much larger scene than people expect.
MEC: Michigan Ice Fest has become a draw for climbers from all over the country. What’s behind that success?
MA: The event has been so successful for a lot of reasons. The climbing is world-class, so that definitely draws in climbers, but it’s also really accessible. Anyone can come to Ice Fest and have fun ice climbing. The socials are really great too. You might find yourself sitting around talking with professional climbers. It’s got a real family vibe. Read more