Ice Climbing Competitions: Mixed Feelings
MEC Envoy Jen Olson faces the challenges of travelling around the world to compete in ice climbing competitions, and develops a great respect for athletes who consistently perform under pressure.
Ice climbing competitions are a whirlwind of jet lag, voices speaking different languages, overhanging plywood structures sprinkled with plastic, granite, and ice. And talented athletes performing acrobatics with sharp objects.
Earlier this winter, I attended three UIAA World Cup competitions. Over three weeks, I travelled and competed in Cheongsong, South Korea, Saas Fee, Switzerland, and Rabenstein, Italy. Most comps have 30 to 40 women (and about 80 men) competing from anywhere from Mongolia to Europe, to Canada, Iran, and Russia.
The top athletes are all ectomorphs: people with low body fat and lean, not muscular shapes. Experienced competitors, many of them compete in bouldering or sport climbing circuits, and train all year round for these events. What I learned is that competition climbing has its own skill set and the way to become good at it is to do it a lot!
I have great respect for the athletes who consistently perform under pressure at these events – despite stress, jet lag, viruses, variable air temperatures, and inconsistent living conditions.
Comps are a good illustration of just how much stress can affect performance. Even though the routes are set well below the ability of most the climbers, only a few athletes ever get to the top during competition. My own performances demonstrated only 60, 30 and 10 percent of my perceived ability. It was incredibly disappointing for me, as I wanted to represent well for Canada and for women climbers in general.
As a mountain guide and an avid climber, I found it challenging to attend these events and not climb for more than twenty minutes over two or three days. Physical exercise helps me with jet lag and with managing stress. Waiting and watching made me feel very much like a caged animal, or at the very least an un-walked dog.
Luckily though, my world cup circuit wasn’t just about failing and learning in competition. It was also about meeting local climbers and playing outside on their home crags. I loved connecting with women from so many different cultures, knowing we all share a love of nature and a passion of climbing in the vertical world.
My training may not have fully prepared me for the stress of competition, but it gave me new-found strength for classic mixed lines in the M9–11 range. It allowed me to play on routes like Le Zebra at Le Zoo (M10) in France, an M11 called Jedi Master in Cogne, and Pink Panther (M9) in Kandersteg, Switzerland. So I’m now committed to training for climbing summer and winter, and to focusing on the athletic performance of steeper climbing and the mental game of onsighting.
I hope to fundraise again for 2014, and work towards becoming a better competition climber for world cups in the future.