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Getting Medieval on Ice

will-gadd-ice-climberWill Gadd gets medieval on Norwegian ice. Photo by Red Bull Content Pool

Will Gadd established the hardest mixed ice climbing lines in the world, set the world distance record for paragliding twice, and holds three gold medals from the X Games. We caught up with him at his home in Canmore, Alberta, to talk ice climbing. 


Whether you’re skiing, rock climbing, or kayaking, the beauty of what you’re doing lies in the line that you choose. If you’re standing at the top of a ski slope and you can trace a line down the mountain, that’s pure magic. That’s why I love ice climbing—an ice route defines a way of progress up an often impossible line of rock around it. The elegance of the line is true in all sports, but especially in ice climbing. The lines are so startling and so clear. 


The best advice I have for new ice climbers is to aggressively manage yourself outdoors at all times. The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last 15 years is how to stay comfortable in any climate. If I’m outside with a group and people have cold hands, I’m doing something wrong—and so are they. 


Once you go ice climbing, you’ll never look at frozen water in the same way. Even if you never wear crampons again, it’s a shift in how you look at the world. 


Sometimes you’re caressing the ice rather than hitting it. It can be really delicate. Then again, it is a sport where you strap on claws and daggers and turn medieval. It’s a balance. 


I’m really into thin-crust style pizza, and I rate them from G to X depending on their topping [the same way ice climbs are rated]. I get really agro, making my own marinara sauce and crust. The kids get cheese. The adults get anchovies. 


The most interesting times in any sport are the points of inflection. For example, I did more ice climbing in the early- and mid-80s than I did for most of the next decade, because the sport kind of stagnated. Then in the late 90s, we started dry tooling. Everybody in Vail laughed at us, but mixed climbing was a way to reach ice lines that never fully form. Then mixed climbing changed ice climbing in the same way snowboarding changed skiing. It’s those inflection points where these things change and move forward. —Charlotte Austin


Follow Will’s adventures at willgadd.com.

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