Gear trends: Ice climbing for 2014/15

More events, plus showcase at 2014 Winter Olympics, bring ice climbing into the limelight. Check out the new gear for next year.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 21 – 25. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Ice climbing’s popularity is on the rise thanks to more events — from the international World Tour to local competitions like the Ouray Ice Festival — and that exposure is only expected to grow with the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, which highlighted the sport as a cultural event.

“These events seem to bring a ton of people, and there are now a lot of new people coming into the sport,” said Petzl America’s sales director, Tom Adams. “And people who used to have old stuff are starting to come back.”

The Winter Olympics showcase wasn’t an official competition awarding medals, but it helped demonstrate the sport to the world. The publicity should add momentum in moving climbing and alpinism from fringe to mainstream.

For spectators whose interest has been piqued, ice climbing is more accessible than ever. With crags like the Ouray Ice Park in Colorado, Frankenstein Cliff in New Hampshire and Hyalite Canyon in Montana, climbable ice no longer requires a punishing and frigid alpine trek. Technical developments in ice-specific gear have made the activity lighter, warmer and more intuitive — and a lot more fun for novices.

To harness the growing interest in ice, Black Diamond is releasing the Fuel ice tool (MSRP $260). Its comfortable design keeps long days more gratifying with an aluminum shaft and increased swing clearance. At 1 pound 7 ounces, newbies and pros alike can focus on upping their ice ante instead of getting weighed down and worn down by gear.

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Climbers looking for technology that eliminates heft isn’t groundbreaking news for outdoor retailers. But as gear gets lighter, these consumers are looking for something extra that delivers even more value. “Now it has to be durable, too,” said Jake Martin, a senior product line manager with The North Face. “The consumer expectation is that it has to be lightweight, but it’s not going to fall apart.” According to Martin, when climbers realize their lightweight gear will hold up, they’re willing to pay more.

Working to keep ice climbers comfortable, even in the most grueling conditions, is The North Face’s Irondome Jacket (MSRP $299). Climbers can say sayonara to the duct tape patching snags and punctures on their puffies. The Irondome stays light at 450 grams with 700-fill ProDown. It also brings high-tenacity 100 percent nylon ripstop technology, strategically placed in areas subject to snares from rocks and sharps, like the sleeves, upper shoulders and yoke. The water-resistant jacket can be worn as either an outer or mid layer.

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Further capitalizing on the growing ice cragging trend, The North Face is rolling out its Ice Project pack (MSRP $199). It’s designed by self-described “hardcore” ice gear users to organize gear efficiently and move from route to route by packing up effortlessly. When the U-shaped zipper opens, the pack’s lid folds out as a sitting pad for changing into alpine boots. Inside, it includes organization for up to four ice tools and 12 ice screws. It also has compartments to stash a file, gloves, crampons and an insulated sleeve to keep coffee or libations warm.

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Also in climbing packs, Osprey unveils an update of its Mutant series (28/38 liters; MSRPs $130/$160), which has been redesigned for four-season use on rock, ice or snow. The Mutant derives its name from the user’s ability to build up or streamline the pack for vertical adventures, including removable compression straps, removable helmet and rope carry options, removable framesheet and aluminum stays and removable top lid on the 38-liter. And despite being well padded, the hip belt easily can be wrapped out of the way of a climbing harness, leaving a basic webbing belt for stability.

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Mountain Hardwear is adding increased flex to its lightweight ice climbing software. The Hydra Pro Glove (MSRP $130) keeps fingers warm with durable, water-resistant goatskin that has a wrap-around, digit-hugging design. Its durable nylon softshell material offers four-way stretch, giving climbers a close grip and confidence during tricky tooling.

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--Leia Larsen

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