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Blog

Ice Fest Stories: Lisa Verwys

Bozeman Ice Festival

  Lisa Verwys is an ice climber, back-country skier, and trail runner who lives in Bozeman, Montana. She learned to ice climb at the Bozeman Ice Festival and is an active member of the outdoor community as well as the Registrar & Collections Manager for the Museum of the Rockies.

Lisa Verwys is an ice climber, back-country skier, and trail runner who lives in Bozeman, Montana. She learned to ice climb at the Bozeman Ice Festival and is an active member of the outdoor community as well as the Registrar & Collections Manager for the Museum of the Rockies.

What year did you take a clinic? Which clinic did you take?

My first clinic was in December 2010 and I took Intro to Ice Climbing on Friday, which was “women’s day.” I’ve taken several clinics since then, including Women’s Intermediate Ice, Leaving the Nest, and Mixed Master.

Lisa climbing a mixed line during the Bozeman Ice Fest.

At the time (2010), I don’t think that the Ice Fest had any backpack demos- or maybe I just didn’t see the packs! So when I got all my fun demo gear home I realized that I didn’t own a backpack big enough to carry everything- all I had was a tiny mountain biking pack. I ended up borrowing a Jansport backpack at the last minute from a friend, and that’s how I carried all my gear up to G1. Did it all fit? Not really. Did I look totally ridiculous? Yes. Did anyone care? Nope!

The other memorable gear mishap from my first day was that I didn’t have any idea of how to layer, and I didn’t know that I needed a big warm puffy for standing around. So I basically froze all day and yet I still came back for more.

Did you have any ice climbing experience beforehand?

I had never ice climbed! I had just moved to Bozeman about 7 months prior. I grew up in southwest Michigan so my only winter sport was downhill skiing. But I love winter and it sounded like a great opportunity to try something new without having to invest in any gear.

Lisa climbing Genesis One. Commonly referred to as G1 this is one of the most popular crag’s in Hyalite.

What drew you to ice climbing?

Honestly I just thought it looked really amazing. The idea that people could climb frozen waterfalls had never even crossed my mind, although now I know that people climb in Michigan. I figured even if I hated it, at least I could say I tried it.

What did you take away from the Women’s clinic?

Really sore arms and back muscles!

Just a quick plug here- I love, love, love the women’s clinics. I mostly climb with men throughout the season but there is something really special and really supportive about being out surrounded by women. I have taken mixed gender BIF clinics and those are also a blast, but the learning environment is totally different and amazing on women’s day.

Mostly what I took away from the first day was a basic understanding of how to not totally flail around on the ice and a drive to figure out how I could find a way to meet more climbers & do more ice climbing.

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What is your favorite climb in Hyalite?

Oh lord, can anyone answer this question? I’m a fan of the Matrix, Champagne Sherbet, and Silken Skein. I’d like to try Horsetail Falls again- I was up there once but it wasn’t quite in shape enough for us to feel comfortable climbing it.

After the clinic what did your climbing progression look like?

My first season I only climbed twice, but by the next season I had started dating an ice climber (I am a total Bozeman dating cliche, I know) and since I could borrow a lot of his gear, I started climbing quite a bit more and slowly started buying gear. I invested in my own boots in 2011 but didn’t get tools until 2012, or crampons until 2013.

Anyway, I spent the first few seasons working on technique and getting comfortable being on ice, reading ice, understanding how ice changes over the course of a season & based on the weather. I started leading in 2013 (my first lead was on Upper Green Sleeves), and since then I’ve still been working on being comfortable on lead and also being a good partner when seconding. I still only lead up to WI3+, but I’m usually able to follow up to WI 4+/5. In the past few years I’ve really started to enjoy the challenge of mixed climbing.

What keeps you climbing?

The same thing that drew me to climbing in the first place- I think ice climbing is the most aesthetically beautiful sport. I love coming around a corner and seeing a huge flow of blue or green ice. And I also love how the cold can turn small seeps into big climbs- it’s like a hidden world opens up in the winter.

I also like to set goals each winter for climbing- usually a new climb to lead and also a “push your limits” type of goal, like trying a tougher mixed climb or a steeper or more sustained ice climb.

Tell us about your Live Your Dream grant project last year? Any future projects you want to share?

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“This last grant was to attempt a BACK-COUNTRY ski traverse north to south through Yellowstone,”

Lisa and Jamie Lichon skiing in Yellowstone . January 2018.

That was actually my second LYD grant- the AAC has been generous to me! The first grant I received was to climb Granite Peak- and that money actually bought me my ice climbing rope. This last grant was to attempt a back-country ski traverse north to south through Yellowstone. We unfortunately got stopped by a pretty intense winter storm about 20 miles in to our trip, with over a week of -30 to -50 degree weather, huge amounts of new snow, and high winds. After being stuck for several days, we had to abandon our attempt (unfortunately when you work full-time, you can’t always wait out the weather!), but we have it on our radar to try again someday.

I’m almost always scheming some new outdoor project. I don’t always succeed at them, but it’s fun to get out there and try. I haven’t come up with a 2019 project yet, but there are some skiing & climbing objectives in the Tetons that I’ve had my eye on, so 2019 may be the year of the Tetons!

How does ice climbing experience support your other sports? Backcountry skiing, rock climbing, trail running?

The funny thing is, I actually don’t rock climb! The heights in rock climbing scare me, but ice doesn’t. I’m not sure how to explain that one, but there you have it.

I think most outdoor sports rely on a lot of the same principles, so they all support each other. Assessing safety, picking a smart line or a route, ability to adapt when things aren’t going the way you thought they would, communicating well and often, learning to use your energy wisely, understanding the benefits and negatives of fear, and learning to cope with fear.

Physically, being consistently active throughout the year makes the transitions from sport to sport easier as well. I am able to advance more in each season when I have a fitness base rather than starting from scratch.

Any advice for beginners looking to get into the sport?

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“Take a clinic! Seriously. They’re super fun and you learn a ton right away.”

Lisa’s advice for getting into ice climbing.

Take a clinic! Seriously. They’re super fun and you learn a ton right away. I also think it’s good to remember that you can make do with a lot of re-purposed or older gear for a while as you’re getting into the sport. Ice climbing is expensive, but you don’t need the newest tools or crampons or a whole new outerwear wardrobe. You can wear ski boots and your insulated snow pants (but be warned that you will snag ‘em with your crampons). I would not recommend carrying a Jansport, but if that’s what you’ve got then go for it!

Lisa upgraded from her friend’s Jansport to a Mammut Trea Guide 40+7 backpack.

How can we follow along with your adventures?

You can find me on instagram at @verwys - and if anyone wants to go on an adventure, I’m open to that too!

The Bozeman Ice Fest has some excellent backpack sponsors so make sure you check out the backpacks available from Mystery Ranch, Cilogear, Hyperlite, and others! Thanks for sharing your story Lisa! If you have a Bozeman Ice Fest story you’d like to share email us.