Feature

The newest way to conquer a mountain

Leave it to the Swiss to invent a new winter sport, said Reto E. Wild in the Zurich Neue Z

Leave it to the Swiss to invent a new winter sport, said Reto E. Wild in the Zurich Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Not content with skiing and skating, we’ve now taken to clambering up frozen waterfalls in the Alps. “Ice climbing” was until recently just a way for “the more extreme” winter athletes to stay in shape. Now, thanks to a few dedicated aficionados, it has become an end in itself. A mere 15 years ago, climbers were using shortened hoes as ice picks. These days the equipment “looks like the handlebars of a racing bike.” Even with all the modern technology, though, the sport is still much more dangerous than rock climbing. Each waterfall freezes in its own unique way, and if a climber hits a particularly brittle patch of ice, he can cause a shattering ice avalanche. Climber Urs Odermatt did that once and plunged 80 feet “along with around 30 tons of ice.” Miraculously, he survived—and still climbs. Such tales are becoming more common as the popularity of the sport grows. The more people who test the strength of a given waterfall, the more likely it is that the waterfall will crack and collapse. That’s why climbers’ greatest dream is unlikely to come true: We won’t see ice climbing in the Olympics.

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