“Maybe I’ll conquer my fear of heights,” Avery Anderson said to his friends down below as he clung to an ice cliff about 45 feet in the air. He was one of approximately 20 East Central High School students learning how to ice climb at the Sandstone Ice Park Tuesday, March 9.

Anderson said it was his first time ice climbing and he enjoyed the experience. Eighth grade student, Lily Ludwig agreed. 

“It felt like a big accomplishment when I got down,” said Ludwig.

Ludwig said it was a bit intimidating at first, but once she began climbing she enjoyed it and went up three times.

“It was pretty fun to go up that high,” Anderson said. “You’re as safe as you’re going to get with all of the gear on.” He plays several sports, but said ice climbing was the most challenging. 

The Sandstone resident said he was not aware the ice park existed until he signed up with his high school Strength and Conditioning class.

Once the students arrived, they listened to University of Minnesota, Duluth instructors Lucas Kramer and Bryan Karban as they explained what gear the students needed and how to put it on. 

“There’s a lot of hurry up and wait,” Kramer said.

The students hopped around as they shimmied into the harness. An instructor pointed to a few of the boys boots and said they needed to be tighter. Once the gear was on correctly, an instructor explained how the actual climb with the ropes worked. 

“It’s awesome and anyone can do it,” said James Loveridge, a longtime member of the Minnesota Climbers Association and guide for the event. 

Getting the event together was a long process that started with the persistence of a Sandstone Park and Recreation Commission member, Dave Barsness, said Loveridge. Tuesday’s event was a collaboration between the City of Sandstone, East Central High School, UMD and MCA. 

“We try to get the kids psyched,” Loveridge said. “This is a great resource right in town.”

Kramer said he has taught classes for students from the Twin Cities area at the Sandstone location for several years but this is the first time for East Central students.

The majority of ice climbers are from outside of the area and many drive several hours to climb or watch. They are drawn by the quality and consistency of the farmed ice, Kramer said. He added that the ice park helps the local economy. The climbers eat at area restaurants, shop and sometimes find lodging nearby.

“This year was crazy,” Loveridge said. “There was anywhere from 30-70 people climbing on a Saturday.” Both Loveridge and Kramer have been involved in the sport for 25+ years and are involved with various clinics and classes as well as the Sandstone Ice Festival. 

“If you can climb a ladder, you can ice climb,” Loveridge said. Ludwig agreed.

“It’s just a little taller,” Ludwig said.

UMD has a large selection of gear due to the longevity of their Duluth program. Kramer said the ice climbing boots cost $200-300 a pair. For those not ready to jump in and make the investment, there are renting options. Hard Water Sports in Sandstone has a smaller selection of ice climbing equipment available to those who want to give the sport a try.

“I encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and try it,” Anderson said.

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