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How Youth Ice Climbing Came to Colorado


Ice climbing will make its exhibition debut at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea in a few months. As it happens, I recently saw the need for an organized youth ice-climbing program that could be the feeder organization for the USA Ice Climbing Team and provide mentoring to kids that might one day become Olympic hopefuls. Thus was born USA Youth Ice Climbing. Who would have known those three years ago that, as a result, three young kids from Durango would travel across the world and be the leading educators of this sport to the world?

I began this process with a vision to take competitive ice climbing and rock-climbing skills and bring them to the kids that I coach. In December 2015, I put my vision and dream into action and hosted the first USA UIAA Youth World Cup and the first North American Youth Ice Championship in Durango. When I asked the kids on the Team Durango climbing team if they were interested, they were hesitant, but intrigued. The idea of handing these kids ice axes to compete in a sport that was new and seemed dangerous made the parents a little nervous. But they trusted me, and so I began the process of teaching the sport of competitive ice climbing.

Using my knowledge of competition and training, I developed a sport-specific training program directly related to the movement of the sport. These kids had a very short amount of time to train and learn a new sport, but what they did have was a lot of drive, fitness and excitement. Who would not want to swing sharp tools around at that age? Owning a climbing gym helped, as I could build a small workout area inside of my gym to be able to teach them the sport. Liam and Georgia took to the sport fast and fell in love with the movement. What was holding them back was just time on the ice tools. Liam and Georgia, both of Durango, were motivated and eager to learn. Being great athletes and very studious, they had a lot of natural ability to understand and problem solve.

Other kids started to notice the fun these guys were having. More joined in on the action, but these two kept with it. Liam and Georgia, as well as a few other Team Durango members, would compete against kids that were from Canada, Montana and other parts of Colorado. Soon, people started to recognize what is possible if you just put your mind to work. Outdoor industry leaders and companies such as Camp, Trango, Osprey, Lowa boots and Adidas stepped up to make sure these kids had the gear they needed.

In February 2016, I was asked to pick three young ice athletes to represent the USA and the UIAA in ice climbing for two weeks during the 2016 Junior Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. My team and I met up with two other countries ā€” France and Russia ā€” to teach the sport of ice climbing. The main goal was to have the youths demonstrate and teach ice climbing to many countries and leading International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials.

The next year, my consistent dedication to this USA Youth Ice Climbing program paid off when I took the first USA Youth Ice Team to France to compete in the UIAA Youth Ice World Cup Championship. Our USA team placed third out of 12 strong countries.

Iā€™m currently working on the USA Youth Ice Championship in Colorado Springs on Dec. 2, 2017. This and other ice-climbing competitions in Colorado are very important for setting up how we are viewed by the IOC. Young athletes will be given the chance to prove, not only to themselves, but also to the USA Youth National Ice Team, that they have what it takes to represent the U.S. overseas at the UIAA Youth World Ice Climbing Championship.

These youth are the ones that will make the Olympic sport plausible going forward in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Events like these help build the community and athlete support we need to progress this sport to an Olympic level. In the future, one of my main goals is to bring the USA ice-climbing training center to Colorado. USA Youth Ice Climbing is looking for young, motivated kids to get out and climb some ice. A great place to get kids started is at events like the Ouray Ice Festival, or look for a guide service such as San Juan Mountain Guides that provides youth ice climbing.

To learn about more ways to get involved in the competitive sport, visit USA Ice Climbing or reach out to Marcus Garcia at [email protected], and visit his climbing and training facility, The Rock Lounge, in Durango.

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