UIAA Ice Climbing History

Reaching for the top (Photo: UIAA)

The history of the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup dates back to 2002 when the first competitions under UIAA (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) rules took place in Val Daone (Italy), Pitztal (Austria), Kirov (Russia), Quebec (Canada) and Saas Fee (Switzerland).

The International World Cup (IWC) was preceded by a European competition schedule which included events in Courchevel (France), Cortina (Italy), Pitztal (Austria) and Kirov (Russia). The first common rules to govern competitive ice climbing appeared in 1998 and the first International World Cup took place in 2000, organised by a private German company, which remained responsible for the event until 2002 when the International Ice climbing Commission of the UIAA took over.

The history of the sport, however, dates back to 1912 when first known ice climbing competition was organised on the Brenva glacier in Courmayeur, Italy.

The venues for the 2014 UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup include Cheongsong (Korea), Busteni (Romania), Saas Fee (Switzerland), Rabenstein (Italy), Champagny en Vanoise (France) and Ufa (Russia).

Competitions, however, have been and continue to be held in countries around the world:

Russia (and former Soviet Union)

Competitions have taken place in the former Soviet Union since 1970. Back then , there were three disciplines: difficulty, speed and speed climbing of a longer route (100+m) by roped groups where the lead climber changed every 40m. The winner of each of the disciplines was announced at the end of the season. Competitions were formalized in the former Soviet Union 1987 when national ice-climbing speed competitions were held for the first time.


Cross-pollination between Russian and European events began in the winter 1996/1997 when the Russian team participated at the well-known Courchevel competition in France and adopted the French rules for difficulty (the precursor to Lead) for their events. Courchevel was well known for its magnificent 40m high tower and synonymous with difficulty between 1995 and 2000 when a huge slab of ice came crashing down just before the event started. The main rule was to climb as high as possible using as few hits as possible, with time limited between eight and 14 minutes.

North America

Competitions were also being held in North America, the most famous being their inclusion in the Winter X games that were held in different venues each year, with ice climbing featured until 1999. Another well-known event was the IWC competition in Quebec, Canada which hosted the best competitors from around the world.  Other venues had their own regulations such as the Ouray ice gathering in Colorado, US, a five-day event with many other attractions for climbers of all ages. The Canmore Ice Climbing Festival in Canmore, Alberta, Canada combines great competitions with skill clinics and other attractions such as climbing demonstrations and slide shows.


Slovenia is also well-known for the Bohinj Speed Race (50m). From 1994 till 1999 duel speed competitions were held on natural rock in Bohinj. More recently there have been problems with ice as a result of climate change. Since 2000 Solcava has hosted Lead and Speed competitions and the Slovenian Cup is a popular annual event.