Ice Axe, Kid On His Back

—Photos and video © Tara Kenny

In what would appear to be a desperate shoehorning of a mountain sport into one of the flattest geographies in the nation, last week a group of North Dakotans kicked steps and practiced mountaineering techniques on an immense snowdrift found in a parking lot near a hockey arena.

The goal was some diversion during the long winter of the North as well as a classroom for kids wanting to learn some alpine technique, including dramatic, sliding ice axe self-arrest. The video below gives a wrap-up of the fun.

Said Andy Magness, one of the initiators (and an experienced climber, it should be noted): The snow mountains are part of what we call the ‘Englestad’ range, a group of 4 or 5 ‘mountains’ that seem to form around the Englestad Hockey Arena in Grand Forks each winter. Consensus is that they are formed by massive snow blowing equipment as they are smoother, steeper, bigger, and more conical than the plow formed hills.

We started taking the kids out to one of the ‘mountains’ earlier this winter. About a month ago it seemed to get bigger and steeper and a grader chopped off the section near the road, leaving a 5 foot vertical face at the bottom of the steepest side. The pitch on the steepest bits always seemed to be 45 degrees or more, and after watching the kids unable to climb these faces we decided to bring out the ice axes.

We made it out three times with my mountain axes and eventually taught self arresting technique and step cutting to five kids and three adults. We got lots of great looks from the cars passing right below the steep faces — every time we were out we expected the police to arrive and stop our fun [but they never did].

—Photos and video © Tara Kenny

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.

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