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A climber tries ice-simulating features installed on the walls of CityROCK during the Colorado Springs climbing gym’s Ice Fest. The annual competition returns this weekend.

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For 10 years, Joe Grosjean and his trusted partners at CityROCK have played with wood, rubber and steel, reimagining ice.

“Weird stuff,” he calls it. Stuff to turn the Colorado Springs climbing gym into some frozen canyon or amphitheater of slabs and daggers.

The temperature won’t be different, but the walls will be transformed Friday and Saturday when CityROCK hosts its 11th annual Ice Fest.

The event won’t resemble Colorado’s premier winter climbing celebration held every January at the Ouray Ice Park, but “it’s similar on the competitive side,” says event coordinator Ange Tysdal, who expects 25 professionals to vie for the top $500 cash prize.

She gives a mischievous grin. “It might be a little trickier in here.”

The most rudimentary features on the walls will be the cement-like holds seen in every climbing gym, but they’re drilled with holes to fit the points of picks. Other holds are the bluish mounds of gelatin. This “ice” won’t crack as much as it will crumble once hit by axes and crampons.

But route masterminds have some shenanigans in mind, Ninja Warrior-like plots with dangling “icicles.”

“Hooking into something that’s swinging around, that stuff is crowd-pleasing,” Grosjean says.

After all, the fest aims to please. One doesn’t have to be a climber to enjoy the sights and Friday night’s “ice-breaker” beer party. But locals might appreciate the opportunity to go crampon-to-crampon with the athletes set to attend.

“It’s about letting competitors have fun and showcase their talents,” Tysdal says. “It’s letting them push their envelope here inside where other people can spectate and watch.”

The underlying theme, Tysdal says, is the Olympics. Sport climbing is making its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games, and while ice climbers continue their push to represent, CityROCK’s competition will require some of the body-twisting moves seen at the Ice Climbing World Cup.

When that international competition came to Durango, it was organized by Marcus Garcia, who’s expected at Ice Fest, along with Kendra Stritch, who in 2014 became the first North American to win at the World Cup. She will teach clinics and compete while Garcia will set routes.

“We’re setting specifically with the Olympics in mind, or World Cup-caliber climbing,” Tysdal says.

Seth is a features writer at The Gazette, covering the outdoors and the people and places that make Colorado colorful.

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