Try ice climbing, an extreme winter sport

Image by nadirco/Fotolia

By Taylor Weeks

Minnesota is known for chilly, white-blanketed winters. The snow and cold doesn’t keep Minnesotans inside, though. Popular winter sport options include sledding, snowshoeing, skiing (downhill or cross country) and ice climbing.

Yes, ice climbing.

Ice climbing is a winterized version of rock climbing. Instead of plain rocks, you scale frozen waterfalls, icefalls, or cliffs covered in frozen waterflows. Ice climbing involves much of the same equipment as traditional climbing, such as carabiners, a climbing harness and a helmet. In addition, you also need crampons, spiky metal plates that attach to your boots for added grip on ice and snow, and an ice axe. Don’t worry if you don’t have this unique equipment—there are several locations with rental options around the state of Minnesota. Many locations also offer classes to learn how to participate in this extreme sport, too—after all, Minnesota, specifically the Lake Superior region, is the third best ice climbing destination in North America. Ice climbing is considered easier than rock climbing, too. With rock climbing, the climber’s route must follow a crack or line; with ice climbing, the climber doesn’t have that restriction and can go anywhere on the wall. People both young and old can participate in ice climbing; it comes in all levels, from easy to challenging.


There are two major ice climbing festivals that take place every winter. The first, Sandstone Ice Festival, takes place in Robinson Park in Sandstone. This year, the festival was Jan. 5-7, celebrating its 13th annual year. The second festival is gearing up for its 3rd annual winter rendezvous: Duluth Ice & Mixed Fest is coming up on Feb. 2-4, and will be held at Casket Quarry in Duluth. Both of these festivals offer ice climbing clinics for youth to adults, as well as additional activities for non-climbers.

Additional Class Location Options

Rental Location Options

A Sampling of Climbing Location Options

Winter Surfing: Another Wintery Extreme Sport

Did you know that winter is the ideal time to go surfing on Lake Superior?

Lake Superior is often considered too chilly to swim in during the summer, but this extreme sport—winter surfing—has continued to gain popularity. Surfing Lake Superior, pioneered in the late 1990s, is a relatively new extreme sport. The Lake Superior Surf Club serves around 50 active winter surfers in the Duluth area alone. As it turns out, blizzards and other such winter weather conditions stir up ideal surfing conditions, including 35-mile-per-hour winds gusting over the miles of Superior shoreline. The frigid waters—negated as much as possible by thick neoprene wetsuits—are part of the challenge, elevating the surfing risk and leaving participants’ adrenaline pumping. Other conditions attributing to the added challenge of winter surfing include the lake versus ocean conditions. Lake water, lacking the salt content of ocean water, is considerably less buoyant, and lake waves appear more frequently than in the ocean. Winter surfing is not a beginner sport, and luckily, there have been no major injuries on the icy waves of Lake Superior.

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