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Suffer and Be Merry

Eastern versions of the new old tradition

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Most rock climbing areas do fine without throwing themselves a huge party every year and forcing representatives from the outdoor industry to pay for the kegs and their attendance. But ice climbers are twisted breeds. How come there are so many winter celebrations?

These days it seems like every nook with a hundred feet of WI 3 from the Saint Lawrence River to Valdez Inlet has an ice festival. With so many options to break the winter doldrums, I decided to keep it simple and local by attending the two big ones here in the Northeast.

First up was the Keene Valley Ice Festival, held in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. Despite its low-key image, Keene is one slick event, undoubtedly thanks to the festival’s major patrons: Vinny McClelland of the Mountaineer climbing shop and Ed Palin of Rock and River Guide Service. The event is based out of Rock and River’s impressive lodge, a place with a genuine end-of-the-road feel, yet fully decked out with food, sleeping accommodations and hot tubs.

Despite being a North Conway, New Hampshire, local, I approach my own hometown ice fest—the Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival—with some cynicism. Maybe it was only the bitter memory of the time five years ago when Jared Ogden flashed my mixed project. Regardless, there is a big difference between crashing someone else’s party and throwing your own.

Hosted by International Mountain Equipment (IME) and International Mountain Climbing School, the ice fest underwent a renaissance this year. Gone are the days when the junior guides would set up tables and hang banners in the basement of the local Ramada Inn to greet the out-of-towners. Thanks to the planning efforts of Sarah Garlick and Anne Skidmore, demos and après-climb refreshments were held upstairs in the venerable IME headquarters. Someone made the wise decision to curtail the slideshows to a single evening, and make Saturday night all party. As the local band Audio Kick Stand played, I even caught a glimpse of local stalwart Doug Madera actually enjoying himself. Now that’s reason to celebrate.

—Freddie Wilkinson