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2016 UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup at Bozeman, Montana

Maxim Tomilov wins the 2016 UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup Men’s Lead Competition, at the 19th Annual Bozeman Ice Festival in Montana.

[Photo] Seth Langbauer

It’s Saturday evening in Bozeman. The early December air slowly cools down as hundreds of spectators filed out of the Gallatin County Fairgrounds after attending the first ice climbing World Cup this season at the 19th Annual Bozeman Ice Festival, home of the UIAA World Cup Ice Festival.

The competition ended an hour ago. I’m sitting in local climber Conrad Anker’s white truck in the parking lot warming my chapped, frozen hands and recounting the evening’s events. For the past few hours, I’ve been surrounded by down jackets of all colors, while standing on frozen mud at the fairgrounds, home of summer rodeo events. I know that the Russians won both Lead Climbing divisions, with Maxim Tomilov grabbing the top spot above 44 other men, and Maria Tolokonina clinching the women’s division, beating 17 competitors. Now I’m waiting for the final results of both divisions.

Maria Tolokonina wins the 2016 UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup Women Lead Competition. [Video] Jason Thompson

Earlier in the evening, the aluminum bleachers were nearly full. The audience lined a barrier of plastic orange fencing, keeping them behind the media tents, cameras and announcers. Excited shouts of “Go, go, go!” rose from the crowd. Electronic music pounded in the background. I was pushed into a rope that marked the front of the line. The crowd’s energy built as the announcer’s voice echoed through the crisp night air. Cowbells rang and clanked in the background. As the event went on, the audience got louder and louder. “We’re broadcasting around the world,” one announcer said.

Next up was the Russian favorite Maxim Tomilov. He pulled hard and aggressively on his ice tools. The thunk of crampons stabbing into plywood drowned out the crowd’s cheers. Higher he fell onto a single tool, his body weight slamming onto the leveraged pick of the drooping tool. The announcer let out a deep “Oooooh!” and said he didn’t even want to breathe. Tomilov regained his composure and continued moving up the wall. “You want to see the best in the world? You’re seeing them,” the announcer said.

Janez Svoljsak sticks a pick on a hold high on the Men’s Lead Competition route.

[Photo] Seth Langbauer

“People are amazed by the athletic ability of the competitors. It’s unbelievable until you see it. Surreal,” says Kt Miller, the media manager for the Bozeman Ice Fest. “These comps are gaining traction in the media and the greater sports community. People all over the world want to watch.”

This World Cup was an event almost didn’t happen. A huge windstorm on November 18 toppled the original plywood tower and the event came close to being canceled. “It would have been a massive blow and an emotional blow to the community if they didn’t pull this off,” Miller says.

The competition wall, however, was rebuilt at the fairgrounds with help from contributions and volunteers. “We had it re-engineered and designed over Thanksgiving weekend,” says event organizer Joe Josephson. “We were working right up to the end.” Then the weather in Bozeman rose almost 20 degrees above normal in the days before the competition, with highs in the 50s before dropping back to the 30s.

“On Wednesday it was ‘mud pie’ out there. Fortunately on Thursday it stayed just barely above freezing, which kept the mud frozen. And it snowed a little bit,” Miller says.

Now that the World Cup competition is over, ice climbers from around the world attending the Ice Fest are heading out to Hyalite Canyon to sample early season ice on over 225 classic ice and mixed routes. Once there, they’ll scatter in the vertical labyrinth of dense trees and ice corridors, amid the quiet of the slow-flowing creek and the crunching snow.

North American Men Lead Competition winners: First Place: Gordon Mcarthur, Second Place: Nathan Kutcher, Third Place: Noah Beek.

[Photo] Seth Langbauer

Women Lead Final Results:

1. Maria Tolokonina

2. Ekaterina Vlasova

3. Angelika Rainer

Men Lead Final Results:

1. Maxim Tomilov

2. Alexey Tomilov

3. Sergey Tarasov

North American Championship, Men Lead

1. Gordon Mcarthur

2. Nathan Kutcher

3. Justin Willis

North American Championship, Women Lead

1. Sarah Hueniken

2. Karlee Hall

3. Katie Bono

View the 2016 UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour Results here.