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Culture

Never the Same Slope Twice

Forget skiing and snowboarding - the latest trend in winter sports is ice-climbing.

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Ice-climbing is a "cool" new winter sport

She's cool, she's beautiful and she loves steep, rugged ice walls, dangerous overhangs and icicles over a metre long. Former model Kirsten Buchmann from Munich gets her kicks on glaciers.

"I was really tense on my first ice tour, from head to toe, because the foothold can melt, it can break. And it's a huge challenge," she says.

Ice-climbing Mecca

Big Ben is a tower of ice in Pitztal, in the Austrian Tirol. Armed with ice picks and boots with crampons, and always aware that they could fall on the slippery slopes, climbers need strength, concentration and fitness when they storm the icy peaks.

"It's an athletic sport that makes demands on the whole body. You have to kick, batter and turn. And it's cold, which makes quite a difference. Cold is exhausting," one climber says.

Pitztal is a mecca for the climbing world élite. The world's tallest artificial ice tower, it is the site of the first ice-climbing world championships, a thrill for the hundred or so climbers from 15 countries taking part.

Aged between 20 and 40, the competition also includes 25 women – such as Kerstin Buchmann. All have one aim: to climb the frozen waterfall as fast and as high as possible.

Ice for everyone

The Austrian tourist authority in Pitztal wants to expand the alpine attractions of its region, and believes this trendy new sport is just the thing to make cash registers ring.

And ice climbing camps already offer trial courses under the slogan "ice climbing for everyone".

"With these natural features - there are about 40 waterfalls that freeze up in winter - we thought we should simply import a similar feature into the centre of the village, bringing tourists as close to nature as possible," a spokesman from the authority says.

Visitors to the region may admire the beautiful mountain backdrop but not everyone wants to climb it. The village now has its own artificial ice tower.

And at 35 metres, it is the tallest in the world.

Ice climbing is an exciting, but also dangerous sport. The ice can easily brake or melt away when climbing and the cold pushes climbers to their limits. But for the experts, ice walls, glaciers and overhangs pose no problem.

In fact, more and more "normal" climbers are discovering a fascination for this sport. "As ice always changes, you never climb the same ice twice," one climber says. "In summer you see nothing – in winter you climb something that simply was not there before," another says.

However, there is more to ice-climbing than just the sport.

Similar to skiing and snowboarding - chilling out in the evenings is all part of the fun.

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