Athletes from sixteen countries will gather in Civic Center Park to compete in the Ice Climbing World Cup this weekend. The event is the last of six in the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) World Cup, and the only one in the United States — not to mention a first for Denver, where a giant ice wall is being built downtown.
Competitions have already taken place in South Korea, China, Switzerland, Italy and France. The UIAA, the sole organization on the International Olympic Committee's radar for ice climbing, aims to have the sport included in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The American Alpine Club is organizing the weekend-long event. Director of Strategic Partnerships Vickie Hormuth says the club expects close to 20,000 spectators, and hopes that it will spark the crowd's interest in ice climbing as well as help the USA put together a team for the possible 2022 Olympic competition.
The location was a natural for the event: The bulk of the USA National Climbing Organization's members live in Colorado, and the state is home to some of the most sought-after natural ice climbs.
But the competition is not held on one of those walls. Builders are constructing a wall at Civic Center using ice-growing mechanisms known as chillers, invented by the Austrian company Absorber System Technology; they will be installed into the wall, which will stay frozen for ten days. This is the first time these chillers, most commonly used to form ice-skating rinks, are being used in a vertical wall.
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The USA has sixteen athletes going for the gold in the World Cup, eleven of whom are from Colorado. Boulder resident Tyler Kempney is competing for a medal and aspires to be a part of the USA ice-climbing Olympic effort.
"Even if I'm not able to participate, I'd love to help make this happen, whether I am involved with the development of the sport or the USA team. I believe this sport has a lot of potential for development in the U.S., and Colorado has a very high concentration of people that would pursue taking this sport to the next level. Hopefully it can be the impetus for the U.S. to develop a strong community in competitive ice climbing.
"The biggest allure for me is the aesthetics of ice climbing," Kempney adds. "When you look at these climbs, you think that no one should be on that. But with the development of the craft and skills, the places that seem unaccessible become possible."