High up the ice wall

In January, the world’s best ice climbers compete at the Ice Climbing World Cup in Saas-Fee. But the Saas Valley’s ice walls have plenty to offer for beginners as well as the professionals.

For the athletes participating in the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d‘Alpinisme) World Cup (run by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation), the Saas-Fee stop is the highlight of the annual event calendar. Nowhere else can the spectators get so close to the action. The atmosphere is legendary, and so is the afterparty. This winter, on the 24th and 25th January 2020, the multistorey car park in Saas-Fee will once again become a cathedral to climbing. Hundreds of spectators will hang on every moment as the athletes take on the 32-metre-tall ice wall found in the belly of the multistorey car park. The cheering crowd can be almost deafening at times. During the 2019 edition, they nearly raised the roof when Swiss competitor Yannick Glatthard took to the wall, eventually winning the event in the face of stiff competition from Eastern Europe and Asia. “The atmosphere here is sensational. I‘ve never experienced anything like it,” the 21-year-old said in his winner‘s interview.

Beginners welcome
Having seen the pros in action, you’re bound to want to try ice climbing for yourself. And there are more than 20 ice walls in the Saas Valley with varying difficulty levels and plenty to challenge even the most experienced climbers. But for beginners, the walls in and around the Saas-Fee multistorey car park are extremely popular. These sheltered walls also provide an ideal place to practise at night and when the weather is bad. The best way to start is with lessons. Local mountain guides provide support and show you how it’s done, sharing the most important tips and tricks. Fun comes first but there’s no denying that climbing is a challenge, especially for beginners. But that makes it all the more satisfying when you do finally master the ice.Ice climbing equipment and techniques differ significantly from rock climbing, though a climbing harness and rope are still essential. An ice axe in each hand and crampons on your feet provide purchase on the ice.

Chalchofen: an icy paradise
Directly behind the cable car station in Saas-Grund, you will find the Chalchofen ice climbing garden. This is another great place with plenty of options for beginners to take their first steps. Although, the secured top rope routes offer plenty for intermediates and advanced climbers too. Thanks to floodlights, the routes here are good to be climbed well into the evening. And under the lights, the icy walls shine in all their glimmering glory.