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Ice Climbing in the Canadian Rockies

The Canadian Rockies boast some of the best ice and mixed climbing in the world. Easy to access canyons and massive multi-pitch frozen waterfalls provide almost unlimited challenges for beginners to elite climbers alike. Many of Canada's top ice climbers call Canmore their home, and many of them guide for Yamnuska.

Ice Climbing Season

Ice climbing is typically available from late November through until April. Optimum season is December to mid-March.

Ice Climbing

Ice Climbing is a fun, active and growing sport. Canmore and the Canadian Rockies offer some of the best ice climbing in the world. In addition to long and challenging multi-pitch routes, there are fantastic beginner crags and climbing areas. Yamnuska Mountain Adventures offers a wide range of ice climbing instruction and guiding for people of all skill levels. Whether you are the complete beginner who has never ice climbed before or the highly skilled climber looking to tick off the list of classics, we invite you to join us for an adventure in Canmore. Throughout this page we will attempt to give you a bit of information that may help you better understand our sport and provide you with some insight should you be considering giving ice climbing a try.
The ice climbing season in Canmore and the Canadian Rockies runs from around November to the end of April depending on temperatures and elevation. Lower elevation ice climbs usually melt out early April so we run our beginner courses starting in late November and typically stop courses at the end of March. Higher elevation climbs (north facing multi-pitch routes) can be climbed well into May depending on temperatures and avalanche hazard. This is the mountains, however so the ice climbing season is often extended.

Our Full and Half Day Programs

Experiential Ice Climbing programs (half day and full day instruction) generally run December to Mid March. These are held at climbing areas in Banff, Kananaskis and Canmore and provide a great venue for introduction to this exhilarating sport.
Using ice axes and crampons to climb waterfall ice pitches may sound daunting for those who question their physical strength. People of all ages and physical capabilities can try this fun sport without feeling like they need brute upper body strength. In essence you are kicking and swinging your way up waterfall ice but if done properly, beginner pitches should feel very similar to climbing a ladder. Like all technical sports, proper technique goes a long way, making good coaching and instruction all the more important. Advanced ice climbing on steep ice requires great skill, strength and stamina and this is typically developed over years of training and experience.

Ice Climbing Courses

Beginner ice climbing is taught at single pitch or top roping climbing areas close to Canmore. Top roping means you have an anchor at the top of a climb that the rope is threaded through. Using proper equipment and techniques, the climber is belayed from the bottom of the climb by a partner. Multi-pitch ice climbing is more complicated and requires a higher level of skill. Most of our two day beginner courses are followed by an optional multi-pitch day. In other words, after two days of good instruction most people are able to complete their first guided multi-pitch ice climb!
Waterfall Ice Climbing Grades range from easy climbing Grade 2 to expert level Grade 8. We usually do beginner instruction on Grades 2 and 3 and will progress to Grade 4 throughout a weekend course. Grades 5 and 6 are considered difficult and are grades that beginner ice climbers can aspire to progress to. There are many classic multi-pitch routes in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise in the grade 2, 3 and 4 range so this type of climbing is definitely a possibility for the beginner.
Given that ice climbing is done in the winter (on ice!) but is an active sport, layering your clothing is a great strategy for ensuring you are never too hot or too cold. Bulky clothing can get in the way when you are using crampons and ice axes and may also restrict your movement. Close fitting clothes are best for your ice climbing adventure – leave the baggy boarder pants at home! When belaying or getting instruction, you are often standing around and in the winter that means you get cold. Having lots of layers ensures that when you are watching a demonstration or learning something new, your attention can be focused on the task instead of trying to keep warm.
When ice climbing we always recommend you stay hydrated and have lots of high energy snacks. A thermos with a hot beverage can be a welcomed break on a cold day and high energy foods make sure your metabolism is also helping you stay warm.
Beginner locations we regularly use are the Junkyards in Canmore, Grotto Falls near Canmore, King Creek in Kananaskis, Johnston’s Canyon in Banff and Hafner Creek in Kootenay National Park. High quality multi-pitch climbs are littered throughout Canmore, Kananaskis, Banff, Yoho, Jasper and Kootenay National Parks. A lot of classic climbs have very short approaches and are easily accessed from maintained roads.
Ice climbing is a great way to stay active and to enjoy the outdoors in winter. Getting to the top of a waterfall ice climb can leave you with a sense of accomplishment that is unmatched. If you live in Canada or are a visitor to this part of the world, you owe it to yourself to try out this amazing sport. We would love it if you chose us for your beginner or expert level climbing adventure.

Beginner Courses

Intermediate & Advanced Programs

Semester Programs

Ice climbing forms an integral part of the Yamnuska Mountain Skills Semester, a three month program of intensive mountaineering training.

Ice Climbing Grades

WI 1 - Flat - like a lake... and no routes are graded WI 1.

WI 2 - Low angle ice or very short pitches up to 80 degrees.

WI 3 - Sustained pitches up to 80 degree ice with good resting places. Requires skills for placing protection.

WI 4 - Sustained pitches of vertical or off vertical ice. May have some run-outs between protection.

WI 5 - Long pitches of vertical ice requiring good protection placement.

WI 6 - Full pitches of completely vertical ice. Featured or requiring awkward stances and movement.

WI 7 - Full pitch of thin vertical or overhanging ice. Requires exceptional skill.

WI 8 - Hardest climbs.