Attracting international attention to the Winter sports stage, as of late, is the compelling sport of Ice Climbing. Cities all over the world are gaining funding to build ice parks where manmade waterfalls are crafted for the sole purpose of freezing them. Once frozen, they are scaled by some of the best ice climbers in the world.
Ice Climbing isn’t just about making it to the top, it is about being the fastest, strongest, and most technical climber in the Speed and Lead Climbing competitions. Speed climbers are sort of like sprinters; they quickly hack their way up 25-meter walls of ice with incredible power. On the other hand, Lead climbers, use a variety of techniques to traverse a pendulous climbing structure – reaching the highest point on the wall wins.
Although people have been actively climbing glaciers and ice slopes for centuries, Ice Climbing as a discipline is a relatively new sport. It is technical and dangerous and that is part of the draw. And, climbers wear and use cool gear like crampons and ice axes (usually 2) to reach their climbing goals. Ice climbing is an art and it takes a sound mind and strong physical body (some of the strongest I’ve seen) to even be able to compete. It is a growing sport for a reason and is captivating audiences around the globe.
For those of you looking to become a fan of the sport, check out the below for results, live-streaming, and upcoming event details:
Jan 7-9 2017 – Beijing, China (Ladies & Mens)
Jan 14-15 2017 – Cheongsong, South Korea
Jan 20-21 2017 – Saas Fee, Switzerland (Ladies & Mens)
Jan 28-29 2017 – Rabenstein, Italy (Ladies & Mens)
Feb 4-5 2017 – Champagny-En-Vanoise, France (Ladies & Mens)
I’ve never met anyone in my life with more passion and grit than Gordon McArthur. He is a seasoned professional ice climber with a giant appetite for climbing colossal walls of ice. His positivity and sense for adventure is contagious and his talent in this sport is bringing him all the way to the Winter Olympics in PeyongChang, Korea in 2018. He has a name with a special ring to it, not because he is Canadian, but because he has a story worth sharing. A story that fills people in the sport (and not in the sport) with a fire to fight for what they want in life. He is a talent to watch with a name to remember and I am humbled to have been able to interview him with Rad Season today.
Natalie: Gord, it is so nice to be back in-touch with you again (even over Skype)! I realize you have had quite the busy schedule lately traveling in China and just finishing up the World Cup in Korea.
Gord: Hey Natalie!!! Yes, it’s so good to be in touch again. I’ve always enjoyed working with you. Wow, the last couple of weeks has been a crazy whirlwind. For years I’ve been traveling on the ice climbing world cup competition tour…and with that I’ve been able to see a lot of the world. But this year, I was able to experience something new; China…and more specifically…the Great Wall of China.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have seen myself walking on such a historic monument of the world. It’s so surreal, now, as I sit on the plane en-route to Europe…to think…I did that. Asia is always an adjustment, but the more you travel, the easier it gets. Going from China to Korea was almost relieving. I’ve been to Korea 7 times now, and part of me sees it as a familiar place. I know the ins and outs, so that brings peace of mind, especially when preparing to compete.
Natalie: So, I would like to start from the beginning. Many of our readers are new to the sport of Ice Climbing and would like to know more about how you got involved and why you love this sport. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Gord: I’ve always loved climbing. From the moment I was introduced to it, I knew that there was something different about it, something that went deeper inside of me than the usual sports I typically did. But ice climbing…that didn’t come into the picture until I moved from out east to the mountains of British Columbia. I was on my way home from the city and happened to be driving through the mecca of climbing (Canmore, Alberta) and there was an ice climbing festival on. The moment I saw this, I was like, “oh, now this is something I need to do”. And from there, I got stuck in.
I involved myself with the right people, and basically became obsessed with the sport and everything to do with it. The gear, the people, and doing it as much as humanly possible. 12 years later, nothing’s changed. In all my days, no sport has ever driven me so deep, motivating me to be my absolute. And with climbing, there’s no end…which allows for continued growth…in the sport and in life.
Natalie: Do you love the training as much as competing? I somewhat recall that you built The Machine to help you train and to stay closer to home? Is that right?
Gord: Training is a huge part of me. Training allows for opportunity. If you want to be good or great or even the best at something…you need to put the time in that’s required. Mentally, physically; training paves the way. Performing, yes, is ultimately the goal to which you work towards, but training allows for the growth needed to perform at our best. I spend 5 days per week training. And I can do that because I see where my dreams lay; what I’m wanting to accomplish in the sport. With clear eyes, you’re willing to push past lazing around and fight for what it takes. Sometimes this can lead to a dark place, becoming a masochist, but if you can harness your passion, sacrifice can be a positive thing (through the process of going after your dreams).
My backyard, my training ground, is a great example of this. For me, and my goals, and what they demand…either I had to travel a lot, or even move, or…build to suit my own training facility…close to home (in my case–my backyard). Training has become just as important as actually competing (or performing in the mountains). I love learning how I can be better, and trying hard to become better. I find a lot of joy in seeing my body grow (physically and mentally) through training.
Natalie: Quite obviously your training is paying off! I saw an article recently by the UIAA that said you are ranked #12 in the world for Men’s Ice Climbing, yes? How does it feel to be ranked like that?
Gord: Over the years I’ve learned how to train. It’s a never ending process as with the evolving of sport, so does how we approach our training. In recent years, yes…I’ve experienced success in competitive climbing. Which is really cool. To see my training pay off is always rewarding. But as I’ve learned…the work is never done.
We can enjoy these moments of success, but just as quick our focus needs to remain on forward momentum. But yeah, always cool to be caught in a moment of success. It’s why we do it, those moments…they drive us.
Natalie: So, knowing your tenacious personality, I am guessing you are reaching for bigger goals this year as you prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
What have you been working on that will give you an edge on your competition in the coming months and leading up to the Olympics?
Gord: Learning how to train is of the utmost. Without the proper tools, you always seem a little “short” for the job to be done. Years of studying my climbing, other athletes, how competitions work, the movements created through the routes at every competition, it’s allowed me to see the bigger picture. I’ve been able to analyze all of these aspects and compile my own tactics…which will hopefully lead to some sort of measured success. But we can only prepare. Once in the moment, our fate remains in the hands of “that moment”. Almost a sort of chance. We can control certain aspects of our climbing, but others…we can’t, and thus the outcome is always the unknown. All I can do, with every climb, is be in that moment, do my best with every decision, and the rest is “noise”.
There’s a huge push for ice climbing in the winter Olympics, with Korea being next year and then 2020 in China, definitely my sights are set on these. In 2014 I had the opportunity to represent Canada and Ice climbing at the Sochi winter games. That was an incredible moment in time, to have been there, doing what I love, at the Olympics. That event was the stepping stone for upcoming winter games. And with that in mind, everything would go towards an opportunity at a medal…at the Olympics.
“All I can do, with every climb, is be in that moment, do my best with every decision, and the rest is “noise”. – Gord McArthur
Natalie: And, I keep reading that this sport is being dominated by Russian climbers? Why is that? And do you see the North American’s catching up to them?
Gord: For years, competitive ice climbing was dominated by Russians. I think this was more to do with their infrastructure. Their government supported their athletes: financially, as well as with other details. With all that, they had what they needed to train full time, on a proper climbing structure, with the money they needed. Plus, it was often thought too because life in Russia is just simpler. In North America, we’re distracted by shiny things. Life is busy, we get distracted easily, and there’s little to no support for the sport itself (competitive ice climbing).
So, for those who want to do it, you’re basically on your own. But here’s the thing…more than all of this…it takes being motivated. Whether from Russia or NA, if you can find it within yourself to be motivated…the sky’s the limit as far as I’m concerned. Competitors from around the world have figured out how to train, how to compete, and how to give the Russians a run for their money. The Russians are good friends of mine…great friends in fact, and competing against them, learning from them, has been an honor.
Natalie: And what would you recommend to others who are looking to get into the sport? Any quick tips or advice you’re willing to share?
Gord: Anyone that’s looking to get into this (awesome) sport just needs to find the will to try hard. To be willing to learn, and progress, and deal with all the ups and downs of being a competitive athlete, this is what it takes. It’s not for the faint of heart, but once you’re in, trust me…there’s no letting go. Only digging deeper. The people are amazing, the travel is worldly, and what you’re left with is an opportunity of a life time.
Natalie: Great advice, Gord! Now, switching gears, our readers are dying to hear about the 2018 Olympics in South Korea! How excited are you for the Olympics and how are you feeling about it?
Gord: Any time the Olympics is brought up, of course my heart starts to race a little faster. In competitive sports…it’s the end game. It’s the “show” of all “shows”. To compete on the Olympic stage, well…there’s no bigger stage. So, hopefully that becomes a reality.
Natalie: Was your time in Sochi, Russia helpful at all in getting you mentally/physically reader for another Olympic Games?
Gord: My time in Sochi was surreal. Who’d a thought I’d ever be at the Olympics, representing my country and the sport I love? Not me…that’s for sure. I grew up south of Toronto, Ontario, loving sports, but never focusing on just one. But the moment I moved to the mountains, everything changed. So much that it lead me to Sochi. And now, with climbing being in the next Olympics, and others to follow, yeah…I’m definitely psyched on that.
Natalie: What does your competition need to worry about this year with you? Or are you going to let them find out for themselves? I know you were recently in South Korea for a World Cup event, how did that go?
Gord: Everyone battles for the top spots at each competitive event. It’s “a good fight” as my Russian friend always says, and it can be anyone’s game. We suit up, put our game faces on, and try our best. In the end, someone’s on top. Every competitor brings something to the table, and everyone knows about it. There’s no hiding what our strengths are, only making it known what we’re all capable of. That sets the tone. From there, you perform to win, to be the best.
Natalie: So, awesome Gord. Are there any brands that are helping you along the way in training to get to the Olympics? Are you still wearing Wigwam socks? Those are my favorite, of course!
Gord: My sponsors, from the very beginning, have stuck by me…through thick and thin. What I love about the brands I work with, is that no matter what…if I win, lose, try hard, fail, succeed, they are there regardless. And that’s what makes the relationships so special. Uncondintional support. Scarpa, Outdoor Research, Petzl, Wigwam, Osprey, Julbu, So iLL, the Alpine Club of Canada, Clif Bar, all these brands support me with what I need…for this crazy journey that I’m on. No matter what I do, they’re right beside me.
Natalie: Looks like you are using a roundup of some of the top outdoor brands in the industry! Right on! Ok, now for a few fun questions from our readers.
Natalie: What is the scariest experience you’ve had ice climbing?
Gord: Scariest experience? Hmm…we were night climbing in a canyon, near my home. The lights we had set up suddenly turned off. Pitch black. Then all of a sudden the frozen river we were standing on surged, breaking up the ice shelf. We almost drowned. So scary. There’s more to this story…buuuuuut maybe that’s all that needs to be said.
“It’s not for the faint of heart, but once you’re in, trust me…there’s no letting go”. – Gord McArthur
Natalie: Woah. Fair enough! How about most embarrassing moment in the sport?
Gord: The most embarrassing moment? Lol. My first time ice climbing, my hero (and now long time good friend) was teaching me. As I was climbing for the first time, my first swing of my ice axe, I swung directly into his brand new rope, basically destroying any further use of it. So embarrassed. I just wanted this guy to like me lol and I wrecked his rope first day out. Good start.
He was not happy. But now, we’re close friends so all is good.
Natalie: My partner Casey has a “pre-game” ice hockey meal before games, do you have a special diet or meal regimen that you follow before competing?
Gord: Before I compete I basically lose my appetite. So I typically try to resort to smoothies. I can get a smoothy down which gives me the nutrients I need pre-game. And then with about 30 mins before it’s time to perform…I slam a Red Bull to give me an extra boost.
Natalie: What is your favorite social media outlet and why? I personally am a huge fan of your Instagram.
Gord: Social media can be a “heady world”. It’s easy to get caught up in that world, and lose yourself. For me, I’m growing more and more apart from social media because it becomes a false sense of identity and/or motivation. We use social media to boost a false sense of ourselves. Which is unfortunate. That being said, I do like Instagram because it’s short and sweet, and simple. Post a picture of what you did that day, be psyched, click send, and onto the next task. I feel that Instagram gives a bit more integrity to what we’re up do, whereas platforms like facebook offer too much leeway to a false world.
Natalie: You are such a breath of fresh air. I love your perspective on this! Are you superstitious? And, do you get nervous to compete?
Gord: Superstitious? No. I have the odd little habit, but mostly it’s just habit. I find with so many years of experience in competing, the nerves are still there…but settle faster. I know what to expect which allows me to relax a bit more. But oh my, there were times where I thought my stomach was eating itself from being so nervous. Definitely not fully rid of that, but certainly more controlling of it now.
Natalie: You have daughters, correct? Do they come and watch you compete? I wonder if they get nervous watching you?
Gord: I’ve got two daughters, and they both love watching me compete. They get right into it. Which is super cool. Typically, they watch the live feeds for the events I compete at. And yeah, they get super nervous (and emotional about it). They’re both definitely my biggest fans.
Natalie: That is great. Biggest and cutest fans, eh? I personally can’t wait to see you on the big screen/live feed this year and more importantly on the podium for the Olympics. Thank you for taking the time to talk me and share your story with Rad Season. You are so inspiring! So great to talk with you again, Gord.
Gord: It’s always a pleasure to work with you. Thanks so much for all your support over the years. If the day ever arises where I find myself on top of “the podium”, I’ll be sure to give you a shout out 😉
Natalie: Ha! I am looking forward to that moment! Climb on, Gord! Cheers.
For more information on Gord and to track his progress this season, click here.
For up-to-date information and live streaming for Ice Climbing competitions world-wide, click here.
2015 USA Climbing World Tour below:Last updated on Nov 12, 2019