The world of ice climbing will turn its attention to Durango this week.
Many of the top professionals and 13 elite youth will compete at the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation/American Alpine Club Ice World Cup and North American Ice Climbing Championships Dec. 14-17 at Ska Brewing Co. Its a unique venue for the first of only five UIAA World Cup events.
Marcus Garcia, owner of the Rock Lounge climbing gym in Durango and a UIAA Youth Commission Member, serves as the Team USA youth coach. He was instrumental in bringing the event to Durango for the first time. Previously, it was held in Bozeman, Montana.
“This is important, and it’s a big stepping stone for Durango,” Garcia said. “We’re getting over this first hill of making Durango a hub for ice climbing.”
Some of the world’s best climbers such as Russia’s Pavel Dobrinsky, Switzerland’s Yannick Glatthard and Italy’s Angelika Rainer will compete Friday and Saturday in the men’s and women’s speed and lead competitions.
Representing Durango is Fort Lewis student Kevin Lindlau. Other top U.S. athletes include Carter and Kendra Strich, Ian Hanson and Aaron Montgomery.
There is a combined prize purse of more than $16,000 for the adult competitors in the mixed-climbing competition.
“These are athletes well-known around the world, just not in the U.S.,” Garcia said. “We don’t have the support of these athletes in our country. We have people ranked No. 1 in the world in the sport coming here. People just don’t know them because the sport isn’t really big here. Hopefully we can change that.”
Bozeman was struggling to keep the event, so Garcia eagerly volunteered to take it on. However, it gave him only four months to prepare for an event that takes a full year to raise funds and prepare for. Garcia needed $50,000 to make the project possible, but he is still $14,000 short in his fundraising efforts.
He had enough money to guarantee proper prize purses, but the 40-foot structure he constructed isn’t everything he hoped it would be, though it does meet UIAA standards.
Another obstacle was the unseasonably warm weather. He joked about wearing shorts and a T-shirt while working on the structure.
“Getting funding was the biggest hurdle,” he said. “We don’t have all the sponsorships and funds we need. I’m hoping the community will help us along, but the short notice made it hard.
“We were unable to make ice the way we wanted to in November, so it’s been tricky.”
Ska presents a unique atmosphere for the free event. Spectators will be able to enjoy beer and a festive atmosphere while watching these top athletes compete at a high level.
“We’re fortunate to live and work in an area that rallies around an active lifestyle,” Ska owner Dave Thibodeau said in a news release. “We’re all skies, bikers, runners and climbers, and hard work and hard play are at the core of who we are as a brewery, so when (Garcia) approached us to help out with the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup, we jumped at the opportunity.”
Garcia is most excited about the youth competition to be held Wednesday and Thursday. After the finals Thursday night, he will hand pick his team for the Youth World Cup schedule for February in Champagne, France. Youth athletes competing range in age from 13 to 20.
Several Durango athletes will compete with top climbers from around the country.
“I’m looking more at them as individuals,” Garcia said. “I want to see how they handle the pressure and not so much on how well they perform. When you’re competing against other youth, I want to see how they stand up emotionally and physically.”
Garcia hopes this event is only the beginning of a shift toward Durango becoming a major hub for climbing of all varieties. And he hopes to help promote the youth movement in ice climbing.
“I’m trying to build a (competition) series like the U.S. ski team and hockey teams have,” he said. “I want to make this an annual event to help me select the youth team and build them to the Olympics.”