Ice Climbing: How to train for the ice

Margo Talbot, expert ice climber, author and climbing instructor, offers her advice on how to train and prepare for the ice climbing season.

People often ask me how to get ready for the ice climbing season. My answer is really pretty simple. I stay strong. You see, I’m the type of person who never lets herself get out of shape. This is mostly because I think it’s so much more work to get in shape than it is to stay in shape. But for me, climbing all year round is the best training for whatever season that comes up.

If you are a beginning climber or if you have been busy at a desk and haven’t been getting out as much as you would like, here are some of my quick tips for getting as ready for the ice climbing season as you can.

Lift Weights

Weight training for the upper body means that you have more strength to hold onto those ice axes and place those screws. It’s not everything, but it certainly helps. I have a bench right in my office and I like to do a workout comprised of presses, flies, triceps and arm curls, all performed with dumbbells.

Visit An Indoor Rock Gym

During the off-season or during those stretches when you can’t afford the time investment of real-world climbing, the indoor rock gym will keep your mind and body in tune with climbing and using all of the muscles on a regular basis.

Get Your Cardio

Run or do some type of cardio training so you don’t get winded from the approach to your climb. Not all areas have crags or climbs that are close to the road or accessible on flat ground. Cardiovascular training also helps deliver oxygen flow to your muscles, helping them to grow stronger and recover faster.

Hang Out At Home

If you can, build yourself a dry tooling board in your garage or back yard. If you’re not familiar with this, a dry tooling board is similar to a campus board that rock climbers use to practice their hand and finger holds. An ice climbing dry tooling board is the same, except there are holds built into the board that are made to secure your ice axe into. Nevertheless, building one at home allows you to hang off your ice climbing tools to practice in the spring and summer.

Margo Talbot on the ice. Photo by Margot TalbotOnce the ice arrives, I like to get out and get reacquainted with my equipment again. The best place to do this is at an ice climbing crag. Locate one near your area and take advantage of it as often as possible. I like to use Haffner Creek in the Canadian Rockies, or Ouray Canyon in Colorado. In either of these places, I typically set up a top rope and do laps until I feel like my arms are going to fall off. I also practice down climbing so that it feels natural when I need to do it on the sharp end.

If you are a beginner who likes to follow your partners up climbs, you have just made yourself into a more attractive rope mate by getting prepared. If you are a seasoned climber who just wants to get back into the groove, this early-season training regimen can give you that extra boost of confidence for getting back into the swing of things.

No matter how much you train, the important thing to remember is to have fun. Ice climbing is an exciting sport that can not only give you a greater sense of confidence, but also improve your athletic ability and strength.

Editor’s Note: Margo Talbot is a writer and climber based in British Columbia, Canada. Her memoir, “All That Glitters”, will be released in May 2011. Visit for more information.

One thought on “Ice Climbing: How to train for the ice

  1. Margo,

    Great article on training for your ice climbing season. I haven’t been out in a few seasons – chose to focus on snowboarding last year instead of ice climbing – but I’m ready to pick up my tools and head up to the Adirondacks a few times this winter. It’s good to be reminded of some techniques for getting ready while it’s still warm out!

    Great pictures, by the way! Keep ’em coming :)

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