Slootweg has pursued a passion for rock climbing for a number of years, but it was not until this winter that he got an itch for the ice.
“I didn’t want to just stay in the [indoor rock climbing] gym, I wanted to get out and do more things,” Slootweg explained in an interview.
Having met members of the ice climbing community through his rock adventures, Slootweg was invited out by friends to try the adrenalin-fuelled sport.
Since his introduction to ice climbing, Slootweg has done ascents throughout the Kananaskis and Kootenay areas.
“If there is a frozen waterfall and you can get to it, you could have a chance at climbing it,” said Slootweg.
“I would say Marble Canyon is my favourite. It is a beautiful, large canyon with massive ice.”
Slootweg’s love of the sport has grown exponentially during his first season, but he admits that the ice climbing community can be a hard to break into.
“There are a lot of people who do not necessarily want to train new people because it is quite dangerous,” said Slootweg.
“They want to make sure you are well-aware and you have certain skills before you enter.”
Slootweg said that, as with any type of climbing, ice climbing is a particularly “high consequence” sport.
“You can be chipping away at the ice and, all of the sudden, you break a massive piece off, and you gotta think that massive piece is going down towards the buddy who has you connected.”
Slootweg recounts his own experience, having watched a fellow climber be struck across the head by falling ice, splitting the man’s helmet and resulting in a serious concussion.
Other dangers arise in ice climbing from bad weather, or unsafe ice conditions,
These can lead to chips occurring when the ice is brittle, or ropes freezing into the ice if they are wet.
However, it is not the potential danger that usually scares newcomers away from the sport. Many people are frightened off by the cost.
“You are paying a lot of money for a lot of good gear that you can use outside, but you are going to be using that gear to put yourself into danger,” said Slootweg.
Kurt Morrison, sales representative at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) in the city, usually climbs three times a week.
“In addition to the equipment you would need for summer climbing [which includes harnesses, belay devices, quick draws, personal anchors, etc.], there will be four main additions.
“You are going to have crampons, ice axes, ice screws, and a pair of warm, insolated, full-shank mountaineering boots,” said Morrison.
He also highly recommends dry-treated rope.
“Dry ropes for climbing are specially designed so they will not absorb water,” said Morrison.
“When a rope absorbs its weight in water, it loses more than 50 per cent of its strength.”
Morrison estimated a cost of $2,470 for this gear, not counting the necessary warm clothing.
If properly cared for, Morrison said the metal goods can last indefinitely.
On the other hand, climbing soft goods, which is anything weight barring and made of fabric, comes with a hard, five-year retirement date at MEC, he notes.
Exact prices of equipment can be found on the MEC website.
If the initial costs of ice climbing have not deterred those interested in getting into the sport, Morrison said there are multiple avenues that one can use to contact fellow climbers.
If there is a frozen waterfall, and you can get to it, you could have a chance at climbing it. – Andrew Slootweg
“You can get involved in places like the Alpine Club of Canada, through community meet up groups, or through the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre.”
Morrison encouraged those new to the ice climbing community to check out the Canadian Rockies ice climbing Facebook page.
“That is a place where a lot of people have candid discussions about equipment, access to certain areas, or people looking for current conditions on routes. But a lot of people post on there that they are looking for partners.”