Marcus Garcia at his Climbing Gym in Durango

World Cup Ice Climbing Aspirations

Durango is positioned to become ground zero for the U.S. Olympic Ice Climbing movement. On December 14, the Ice Climbing World Cup–the only internationally sanctioned ice-climbing event in the United States–and North American Youth Championship kicks off at The Rock Lounge and Ska Brewing Headquarters, setting us on a path towards an Olympic future.

World Cup Ice Climbing

There are major implications for Durango, which will be hosting competitors from Finland, Japan, Korea, Russia, and China for this upcoming competition. This event will help serve as the impetus for the competitive future in international ice climbing for the U.S., effectively putting Durango at the forefront.

“Durango is being put on the map,” Marcus Garcia said.

The Ice Climbing World Cup is comparable to World Cup Skiing or Mountain Biking, meaning that, even though the sport is in some ways flying under the radar, it’s no small deal.

Garcia is a major force on the front of this movement. He holds titles such as UIAA Youth Commission Member and Youth USA Team Coach, but he’s also the local owner of The Rock Lounge.

Garcia is a big reason that the World Cup is coming to Durango, as opposed to elsewhere in North America. Throughout the United States, two cities have had a deliberate impact on international ice climbing, according to Garcia. Those cities are Durango, CO, and Bozeman, MT.

Bozeman “took a step back this year, so we’ve been trying to work together, but we’re the only cities that have been involved in this,” Garcia said. “I just took this upon me because Bozeman decided to step out this year. I’ve kinda picked up from where they left off in trying to put this together.”

With four months to organize everything (typically hosts have at least a year to prepare), Garcia and his team are working hard to get things ready for the event kick-off on Dec. 14.

At the moment, Garcia says his preparations team is feeling fairly ready for the competition; however, their biggest hurdle so far has been pulling together the funds necessary. Primarily coming from local sponsors and donations, the Ice Climbing World Cup requires a lot of resources to put on. A GoFundMe campaign is running right now to help raise those funds.

Olympic Aspirations

As of this year, rock climbing has been officially approved for the Summer Olympic Games in 2020 by the International Olympic Committee. It only seems natural that ice and mixed climbing would join the ranks in the Winter Olympics in suit; however, two major requisites must be met by a sport in order to receive recognition: global opportunity and youth participation.

As obvious as it seems, ice and mixed climbing are highly dependent on the presence of, well, ice. There are major countries, like Iran for example, that don’t have access to climbable ice, according to Garcia. The IOC needs to see an ice climbing federation presence in almost all countries in order to approve a sport.

“We have somebody come from South Africa and then maybe one from South America. So once you have those sorts of continents then you kinda see that ‘okay there’s other countries that can do this–can promote this,’” Garcia said. “That’s how this works on the political side.”

Additionally, the IOC requires evidence of youth involvement before it approves a new sport.

“We need to get the youth involved in order to establish this as an Olympic sport, and that’s come directly from the president of the Olympic committee–the main guy. I had a meeting with him in Lillehammer,” Garcia said. “We talked with him and he came out and worked with our youth, our athletes, and they had no idea kinda who he was. They were teaching him how to ice climb and stuff and he said ‘this is such a cool sport’ and it was really cool from the youths’ perspective of it.”

But according to Garcia, the United States is falling behind on this front. Countries like Russia, Great Britain, and Switzerland already have federations and specific training facilities that support their youth. It’s something that Garcia wants here in Durango, but the U.S. hasn’t caught onto it, he says.

Six youth climbers will be picked from the North American Youth Championships to travel to France in the Spring for international competition.

“The idea is to bring them to France and show them that the U.S. is a contender. That’s my goal. From there they can be part of the Junior Olympic Team and it’ll start growing. As they’re training, when the next Winter Olympics comes up, they’ll be ready.”

The event here, in Durango, will effectively be a stepping stone towards sending American youth ice climbers down a path towards the Winter Olympic Games.

Garcia’s vision is to eventually turn Durango into the primary training hub for Olympic ice climbing in the U.S.

“Durango has a lot of world-class athletes here that no one really knows about. I think that’s really unique,” Garcia said. “We should be this training hub.”

Durango is ideal for it because of the area it’s located, he says. It’s the center hub for all these sports. Garcia wants to eventually have a sporting center for more extreme sports like mountain biking and cross country skiing because Durango’s location is so conducive to them.

“I kinda feel like that’s what Durango needs to help it grow as a community,” he said.

Beyond being a North American training hub, the idea would be to host camps for other countries to give them the ability to grow and participate in the sport. It’s an ambitious concept but, with community support, it may be possible.

The Man Behind the Movement

Always a natural athlete, Garcia excelled through High School varsity athletics in traditional sports like track and field, football, and soccer. As a high school Freshman, however, he was also introduced to the world of climbing.

The thing that struck him most was the simultaneous individuality and camaraderie of the sport.

“I did all these other sports but there was always that team concept, which is great. But when you climb, for that moment even if it’s like 30 seconds, it’s about you and what you’re doing,” he said.

At the same time, the community aspect of climbing was compelling.

After competing his way out of the amateur and into the pro division at a young age, “I competed with all these guys I had read about in magazines and stuff and I was sitting there this scared kid, but they all came over to me and helped me and that’s kinda what really captured it.”

He started competing in ice climbing in 2005, mostly taking on routes in Ouray. After reading about the World Cup, Garcia started traveling to Bozeman, MT, for competition. Competition outside of the states, however, was out of reach due to the high costs incurred for international travel.

Fast forward to 2014 and Garcia acquires The Rock Lounge, Durango’s local rock climbing gym. There, he’s able to reach youth climbers in a way unique to his situation.

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