Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, Canada, is one of those places where they joke about the four seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction. Because the road-work season is over in this prairie province, it must be “almost winter” in what some folks jokingly call Winterpeg. You laugh or you cry, eh?
It’s in the rugged spirit of our northern neighbors that members of the Alpine Club of Canada approach the frigid months. It was founded in 1906 as the National Mountaineering Club, and its first headquarters was, curiously, in Winnipeg, hundreds of miles from the nearest mountain.
Manitobans needn’t head to the Rockies to enjoy a white-knuckle wintertime experience. They and the adventurous visitors who join them need only grab their boots, crampons and harnesses and head to the city’s French Quarter for an authentic ice climbing experience.
Each December, members of the Alpine Club build an “ice-climbing tower,” a 65-foot-tall block of ice. Once the temperatures are cold enough, they flood a mold, which they describe as a vertical ice rink, to create a six-story frozen monolith.
Novices and experienced climbers make the trek to the banks of the Red River for the experience. They’re welcomed from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until the slow thaw arrives.
For $30, non-members can borrow equipment, get climbing tips and begin the ascent under the watchful eyes of experts.
The ice-climbing season peaks during the club’s Festiglace, a competition Feb. 15-17. It coincides with the first weekend of Festival du Voyager, an annual celebration of music and culture.
Festiglace and other ice-climbing information can be found online. Click “English” for an instant translation from French.
For general travel information, contact the provincial tourism office online or by calling (800) 665-0040.