2019 Michigan Ice Fest- “That’s a Wrap”

The 2019 Michigan Ice Fest is in the books and 1034 participants ascended on a stormy and cold Munising, Michigan for what was undoubtedly the largest gathering of ice climbers in the Midwest ever! Climbers from at least 34 different states and 6 different countries were represented this year, as participants traveled from far and wide to enjoy the camaraderie and the chance to climb the beautiful ice formations at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore!


Tuesday MIF staff and volunteers set up an exhibitor display and opened registration at our headquarters in downtown Munising during the first of several storms to hit the Upper Peninsula during the fest. Participants had the opportunity to shop products, interact with athletes, and talk with sales reps from some of the leading manufacturers in the outdoor industry. Once again our Gold Level Sponsor Fits Socks hooked up the first 100 online sign ups with brand new socks to keep their feet warm during the event.  In or effort to reduce our dependance on single use plastic cups, Klean Kanteen provided a MIF logo pint glass to be used throughout the weekend!  Big thanks to Fits and Klean Kanteen for sponsoring our event!


The festival was officially underway on Wednesday as several full courses headed out with our professional athletes.  One of our most popular trips is the Backcountry Adventure Class, which offered participants an opportunity to go out onto the lakeshore to climb above  Lake Superior.  Those classes also get to see a transportation method unique to the UP, including our version of a people mover!


Brutal winds and road-closing snow conditions did not deter folks who were new to the Fest, as most were too excited at the chance to climb the vertical pillars of Pictured Rocks to let a little snow stand in the way. Our friends from Big Agnes set up a warming tent down on Sand Point to give participants safe and warm place to escape the storms. They stayed out there all weekend and were a great place of refuge.

Our main stage presentation was the classic Mountain of Storms. In 1968, five friends took a road trip to climb Cerro Fitz Roy, and documented the whole thing on a 16mm Bolex. Along the way they surfed undiscovered breaks, skied on sand and snow, spent 31 days in a snow cave and made a first ascent on the mountain. Fifty years later this film, which defined a lifestyle and became an underground classic, is in its first wide release!

A casual climber’s social on Wednesday night at Shooters beckoned those who had climbed all day as well as those that had just arrived in Munising, and plans for more type-II fun were made for the following day.


With an unrelenting storm blowing across Lake Superior, participants headed out into the elements for a full day of climbing and clinics.  With the temperatures in the 20’s, many visiting climbers took advantage of the multitude of belay parkas that were available to demo from Patagonia, and Rab.

Great stories kept coming in all day of climbers hitting the ice in what some would call “spicy” conditions as the storm intensified throughout the day.  Many exposed to the harsh conditions along the lakeshore, where they took on the full force of the storm, came back with tales of white out conditions, and bullet proof ice.  All in all, a great adventure!

We offered Free Ground School classes run by the good folks at the American Alpine Club on our new AAC Boulder! The AAC is your single best climbing education resource and have been at the leading edge of climbing education since they began publishing Accidents in North American Climbing in 1948. Their education team is working with the UIAA and institutions around the country to establish national curriculum and safety standards to improve climbing knowledge and reduce accidents. Having Westwood High School taking on the project of building our boulder, it allowed the AAC to train 305 MIF participants gaining valuable safety skills throughout the weekend!

Back again this year, our second stage slide shows at headquarters offered a more intimate setting to highlight some of the recent adventures our athletes have participated in. We got to hear from Mike Wilkinson and Heath Rowland about the surprisingly good ice climbing in Kentucky, complete with a preview of the upcoming film and few jokes we don’t dare repeat.

The evening presentations at the Mather Auditorium includes Nate & Sarah Smith’s amazing accomplishment of the Rainier Infinity Loop. This grueling route includes an up and over traverse climb of Mount Rainier, a run of the Wonderland Trail in one direction
back to the starting point, a second traverse climb of Mount Rainier, and final run of the Wonderland Trail in the opposite direction to the start/finish point!

First time Ice Fester, and The North Face Athlete, Andres Marin entertained the crowd l sharing his experience on soloing the American Route on Great Trango Tower and climbing Eternal Flame on Nameless Tower with his two partners in Pakistan. A highlight for many at Ice Fest are these wonderful and unique presentations……we were barely 48 hours into Ice Fest and the stoke was already high!

The evening’s social kicked off with the Official Guidebook Release Party and a sampling from our official beer sponsor- The Ore Dock Brewing Company. The Guidebook, An Ice Climbers Guide To Michigan’s Upper Peninsula arrived just before Ice Fest and guidebook authors Matt Abbotts, Jon Jugenheimer and Bill Thompson were there to sign copies.


Waking up early Friday morning in the grips of a snowstorm, climbers hit the trails in search of ice. Several groups headed out the Lakeshore Trail, while others walked, skied or snowmobiled out to the backcountry climbs. Wide eyed first timers we able to experience the force of an angry Lake Superior as the cold winds were relentless.  Hurricane force winds provided for a cold but exciting once in a lifetime experience. Barry Blanchard was heard saying that “Patagonia is good training for Michigan!”

The fest also saw an increase in participants demoing gear as many took the opportunity to check out equipment and climb in small groups throughout the park.

Most clinics were filled to capacity including two of our newest offerings: the Women’s Backcountry Adventure, and a Mixed Climbing class which took place in Marquette. In addition to the new class offerings, we were fortunate to secure 24 professional athletes — the most we have ever had — to instruct our clinics and offer some amazing learning opportunities for our participants, all of which wouldn’t have been possible without our sponsors. Even with the cold temps, blowing wind and frozen hands, it seemed like everyone who came through the doors of the Legion on Friday night were all smiles and full of stoke!

Late afternoon had our headquarters full of good smells and smiling faces as Brittany Griffith of Patagonia Provisions cooked up some wonderful treats just in time for hungry climbers fresh off the ice! Nachos? Yes we had them.  Sushi?  Of course we had that too! Missed out?  We have to have her back again next year!

For the first time ever we did a live recording of Chris Kalous’s Enormocast from the historic Mather Auditorium. Tales from Ice Fest past and local lore were moderated by Chris and the panel included Ari Novak, Jon Jugenheimer, Violet Gort and Bill Thompson.  Look for that podcast to drop soon!

With a packed auditorium of over 700 people, Mountain Hardwear athlete Tim Emmett started the evening off with an entertaining presentation of base jumping and ice climbing.  The crowd was in awe as Tim described what it was like to be able to climb at Helmcken Falls, BC, where a 500 foot waterfall sprays the underside of a gargantuan cave, forming some of the wildest ice formations that we’ve ever seen. Inspirational, funny and motivational — if you ever get the chance to see Tim present- GO!

The final program of the evening was from Canadian legend Barry Blanchard chronicling his storied climbing career. From Canadian first ascents to working on Hollywood climbing films Barry has done and seen it all.  Always a crowd favorite, we are lucky to have the talents of someone like Barry at our event.

Friday’s after party was a first for us, as we took it to the streets! Friday night after the presentations we hit the circus tent on Maple Street right in front of Munising’s finest brewery, the East Channel Brewery which offers a variety of unique beers “made with water from the freshest lake in the world!” Fire pits and space heaters kept partiers warm and the cold beer was a great way to top off a special night.  The weather remained as a top conversation starter as the white-out blizzard shut down M28!

As usual, we got the ball rolling early with equipment hand out for Ice Fest courses. One of the unique aspects of the Ice Fest is the opportunity to take a course, whether entry-level or advanced, from one the most accomplished climbers in the country. Sent to the festival from our sponsors, these athletes work with participants to give them the tools to be successful. Talented, patient, funny and some of the nicest people in the industry, these climbers are what make Michigan Ice Fest so darn fun (and welcoming!)

The demo area at The Curtains saw lots of first time ice climbers learning the basics on some of the many routes that were set up. Cold temperatures and high winds greeted the participants but most climbers were able to top out on their first climbs. Hundreds of people were challenged throughout the day with a variety of climbs. Morning excitement to get on the ice quickly gave way to the afternoon exhaustion that can only come from climbing hard in U.P. temps and Lake Superior gusts.  Big thanks to Arni Ronis who manned the demo wall all weekend working toward his millionth Ice Fest belay!

For those who came off the ice a little early, they were treated with stunning imagery at Nikki Smith’s Beehive Ice slideshow.  Nikki walked viewers through her guidebook to climbing in Utah highlighting some favorite climbs, telling some fun stories and wowing the audience with her spectacular photos.

With a long day of climbing, for some their third or fourth in a row, everyone converged upon Mather Auditorium for the highly anticipated Saturday night presentation by Angelika Rainer and John and Jess Roskelley.

Angelika highlighted her storied rock and ice career which included her amazing run of being a three time Ice Climbing World Champion!  Angelica was sent to us from her home in Italy by Grivel who was celebrating their 200th birthday of building climbing equipment!

Saturdays final presentation was from the father son duo John and Jess Roskelley.  There is no other family in the USA with a climbing resume that can rival the Roskelley’s. With firsts ascents all over the Himalayas dating back to the 70’s, this evening was a great way to pay homage to our history by celebrating the careers of these mountaineers.  Both climbers highlighted first ascents in Pakistan.

Prior to the shows we introduced our 2019 Sue Nott Scholarship winners. Down Wind Sports has created the Sue Nott Scholarship with the purpose of promoting, inspiring, and introducing young females to the sport of ice climbing. The girls applied online for the scholarship and eight girls were selected this year (triple the amount of previous years!). They were given free entry into the fest, as well as a spot in the an Intro To Ice course. Recognizing these young athletes in front of hundreds of Ice Fest attendees is always one of our favorite parts of the whole weekend- way to go ladies!

With an incredibly packed auditorium, the evening concluded with the now legendary Michigan Ice Fest raffle where we gave out close to  $10,000.00 worth of gear and clothing to some very excited climbers. Soft shells, belay parkas, ropes, crampons, shells, packs, tools, screws, and ice boots were only a few of the items raffled off to the biggest Saturday night crowd we’ve ever had!

For the rest of the evening back at headquarters, you could find people browsing the booths of Mountaineer Bob, the American Alpine Club, socializing with other climbers from around the country, getting posters signed, introducing themselves to the athletes and reps that were scattered around the Gearnasium, or talking about the crazy weather that had become the common denominator of all Ice Fest 2019 stories.

After the raffle climbers gathered to celebrate a great weekend of climbing at 387 which was buzzing with the sounds of bluegrass music from Fauxgrass!


The classic UP weather finally broke, the highway opened and a wee bit of sunshine warmed climbers as they headed out to Sunday classes and the demo.  The effects of climbing hard all day Saturday and a late night of socializing must have taken its toll on climbers as the demo area was very laid back all day on Sunday. This afforded climbers their choice of routes for most of the day.

With all the changes we’ve seen this year it was another great Michigan Ice Festival and we appreciate all of the patronage we get from Midwest climbers. We are proud to say that over the weekend we were able to sign up 142 new members to the American Alpine Club, and exposed hundreds of first-time climbers to the sport of ice climbing — not to mention all the professional athletes who were able to experience the cold and masochistic world of Midwest ice climbing for the first time.

As you look back on your Ice Fest experience we ask you to think about the companies and organizations that you saw this weekend, and if you liked what you saw or tried on during the weekend we encourage you to buy local. Buying local in the Midwest supports the reps that came, and in turn helps to keep the Michigan Ice Fest alive and healthy. Feeling some retrospective remorse for not buying those mountain boots? Down Wind Sports is still offering the Ice Fest discount for the next week. Give them a call at 906-226-7112.

We also want to thank all those who volunteered their time, energy, and hard work throughout the weekend. Without these folks Ice Fest would simply not happen.

The reason our event is so successful is because of the assistance behind the scene from all of our sponsors. If you were at the event and had fun, enjoyed the presenters, or loved the killer raffle prizes please drop the following sponsors a note to tell them that you appreciate them and their support for the Michigan Ice Fest!

Our Title Sponsor Black Diamond


La Sportiva




Sterling Rope

FITS Socks



The North Face

Arc Teryx

Mountain Hardwear

Big Agnes


Blue Ice
Klean Kanteen

We also can’t thank our athletes enough.  Over the years they have shared their expertise and knowledge to thousands of Michigan Ice Fest participants giving them a solid foundation to help them to enjoy the sport we love and to help keep them safe while out climbing.  The 2019 lineup was as strong as it has ever been- to the following we are forever grateful. Many of these athletes are guides and would love to see Michigan Ice Fest participants in the future.  Want another adventure?  Be sure to click on their links to see where they might be able to take you!

Carlos Buhler
Anne Gilbert Chase
Karsten Delap
Tim Emmett
Kim Hall
Anna Pfaff
Angela VanWiemeersch
Mark Wilford
Barry Blanchard
Vince Anderson
Anne Gilbert Chase
Andres Marin
Nate Smith
Sarah Smith
Jess Roskelley
John Roskelley
Fabrizio Zangrilli
Angelika Rainer
Ari Novak
Jackson Marvell
Karsten Delap
Kendra Stritch
Nikki Smith
Raphael Slawinski

And finally, thank you so much for being part of the Michigan Ice Fest this year! The festival is a gathering of our tribe and we are so thankful that climbers from all over the Midwest continue to come up and celebrate everything that is Michigan Ice. We hope you had an great experience and you can be sure that we are already working on bringing you the best Ice Fest in 2020…..our 29th anniversary! Be sure to keep up with what is happening with the Michigan Ice Fest through our blog at michiganicefest.com or on our facebook page!


ICE FEST February 12-16th 2020

“Feeling Fine at 29!”