This past weekend the American Alpine Club hosted the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup Finals in downtown Denver, Colorado. The event was the first Ice Climbing World Cup Final to be held on US soil. Both lead and speed climbing were held on a massive, purpose-built structure. There was a real, vertical ice wall for speed, and for lead, a plywood structure with a series of hanging boxes above that competitors would have to navigate if they wanted to top the route. Climbers worked their way up the lead wall by way of hooking hard plastic and concrete holds with their ice tools and kicking the front points of their crampons into the plywood structure itself. Speed climbing, on the other hand, took place on a vertical wall made of thick ice that was picked out, so competitors could hook up the route using specialized toothless ice tools. Over 25,000 people came to watch the two-day event, making this the most-watched ice climbing event ever. Climbers from all over the world came to compete in the downtown Denver competition, with athletes from Azerbaijan, Korea, and Russia pushing their limits with ice tools in hand.

Lead qualifiers saw both men and women climbing two routes each, one on either side of the wall, with hopes of having a high-enough combined score to push them through to semi-finals. With only four minutes to get as far up the route as possible, it became imperative that the climbers were efficient with their rests and didn’t spend too much time unlocking the beta.

After lead qualifiers, competitors switched gears and prepared for the speed event. Most of the climbers competed in both lead and speed. Men and women armed with razor-sharp ice tools sprinted up the wall, some methodically placing their ice hooks and others making a mad dash, slipping and skittering their way up. The fastest time of the evening was a staggering 6.48 seconds to ascend the 40-foot-tall ice wall by Nikolai Kuzovlev of Russia. Kuzovlev and his Russian teammate Maria Tolokonina won gold, illustrating Russia's dominance in the event.

The next morning saw a clear blue sky at Civic Center Park with a beautiful view of the Denver skyline. The competitors came out of isolation to check out the lead route, notebooks in hand. They sketched out the holds so they could study until they were called to climb. Soon enough the competition was underway. Climbers moved up the wall using their ice tools, applying pressure to the small, directional holds that kept them on the wall. At the top of the headwall they were faced with multiple hanging volumes, suspended from the scaffolding and free to swing. Figure-fours and figure-nines kept them close to the volumes as they stretched out for the next hold to hook, pushing them higher in hopes of a finals appearance. The roster of 16 men and 16 women tested their skill against the 60-foot wall with only six each moving on from the round.

Finals started just as the sun set over the Rocky Mountains, filling the park with a golden light. The finals route had fast-paced, dynamic climbing incorporating huge dynos, including a leap to the men's and women's finish hold. The park was packed with spectators, all fully invested in every climber. Each upward move saw cheers. Every heartbreaking fall elicited gasps. The men’s route saw two tops, one from Yannick Glatthard of Switzerland and the other at the hands of Nikolai Kuzovlev of Russia. Yannick would take the gold for topping a mere 11 seconds faster than his Russian opponent. The women weren’t left out of the dyno party either, with their finishing hold only reachable by a jump as well. While both Maria Tolokonina of Russia and Woonseon Shin of South Korea made the leap, Maria claimed Gold by making contact with the hold, as Woonseon only made contact after time had expired.

Shortly after the awards were handed out for the year and for the day’s performance. Champagne filled the night sky as the athletes celebrated their accomplishments and triumphs. Soon the crowd died away and the first ever Ice Climbing World Cup Final on American soil came to a close.

Results

Women's Lead

  1. Maria Tolokonina (RUS)
  2. Woonseon Shin (KOR)
  3. Eimir McSwiggan (IRL)
  4. Laura Von Allmen (SUI)
  5. Marion Thomas (FRA)

Men's Lead

  1. Yannick Glatthard (SUI)
  2. Nikolai Kuzovlev (RUS)
  3. Valentyn Sypavin (UKR)
  4. Heeyong Park (KOR)
  5. Alexey Dengin (RUS)

Women's Speed

  1. Maria Tolokonina (RUS)
  2. Coralie Jary (FRA)
  3. Marion Thomas (FRA)
  4. Vivien Labarile (SUI)

Men's Speed

  1. Nikolai Kuzovlev (RUS)
  2. David Bouffard (CAN)
  3. Dmitriy Grebennikov (RUS)
  4. Nikolay Primerov (SUI)