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Bozeman Ice Festival: Accounts from the Players


Warming up after a day of climbing. [Photo] John Irvine

Higher Ground in Montana

By Chris Alstrin, Colorado Springs, CO

"The Bozeman Ice Festival? What's that?" I asked, after an e-mailed invitation suggested a new venue for my film, Higher Ground.

I now know quite a lot about the festival. This is the fifteenth year that the climbers of Montana have thrown a festival, in one incarnation or another, centered on Hyalite Canyon's beautiful ice climbing.

It's the first ice festival of the season. The thought brings excitement, and inspiration to dig deep in the closet to find your tools and crampons, and file away the rust. Just enough months have passed for our forgetful minds to erase the bitter cold, soaking wet belays, spindrift and epic days we encountered in seasons past. Without fail, every year, while in the middle of a horrifying pitch of steep ice, pumping out on the new leashless tools that seemed such a good idea earlier, I scream to my partner, "I need to marry a large Canadian woman who won't let me climb." If my friends called, I could look at her angry visage, quiver, and simply say, "Sorry guys, she won't let me." That hasn't happened yet, so I continue to scare myself and freeze my ass off year after year with the rest of you.


Why do we climb these things? The color of the ice when it's in perfect conditions, the trees frosted with snow, the joy of color when a climber's jacket glares out of the whiteness? The long uphill approach in knee-deep snow while wearing a forty-pound pack, the burning sensation in your hands when the first screaming barfie of the season grips you, the feel of cold air drying your lungs on a quick gasp? Pounding away with medieval-looking tools and screaming?

The moment the first swing of the season slams into the ice—and the ice dinner plates onto your face—and you keep going anyway, the decision you make to overcome your own fear can be reason enough.

Whatever inspiration you find to climb ice, the Bozeman Ice Festival is a great way begin the season.

I flew to Bozeman last week to show our new film, Higher Ground. Despite having screened the film almost forty times, a crowd of any size makes me a touch nervous. Thankfully, a few sponsors opted to woo the participants by buying kegs. A nice free beer certainly makes introducing the film more palatable to me.

Thursday, while most of us settled into Bozeman by drinking delicious coffee and flirting with the locals downtown, all of the invited athletes ran around Hyalite climbing as many routes as possible for day one of the competition.

Kitty Calhoun opened the Festival's evening events Thursday, with an amazing slideshow that showcased ice and alpine routes worldwide that may never see another ascent. The following evening Guy Lacelle gave a very memorable slideshow, showing us his favorite ice climbs in the world. While he had hundreds of amazing photographs, I spent most of the show figuring out how many of the routes I'd done—and how many more I had to do before I settle down with my large, Canadian soul mate. Quite a few, it would seem. As JoJo said in his introduction, "Guy has climbed more ice than any human on earth."

More clinic climbers on Genesis 1, Hyalite Canyon, Montana. [Photo] John Irvine

Saturday evening was the showing of my film, the awards ceremony for the Open class of the comp and an extension of the previous evening's alcohol consumption. During this, some Alpinist staffers and I decided to go a little more alpine and climb one of Hyalite's four-pitch moderate testpieces, The Dribbles. Strangely, this did not convince us to go to bed any sooner.

Unfortunately, the festival did have to end. After a long day of climbing, we all met at the Mackenzie River Pizza Company for free pizza, beer and another round of raffle prizes. A youngster, Rhys, from Santa Monica won the most prizes. I was especially jealous when he won five back issues of Alpinist.

This was my first time to the Bozeman Ice Festival, but after meeting the good friends, humble climbers and great people involved, I'm certainly making this a yearly event.

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Hey! Are you the Brian Prax from MN who attended CSS?!? If so, e-mail me (Carie) back at

2008-06-04 14:54:33
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