Big White Ice Tower Climb: a family activity (yes, really!)

Among the many unique outdoor activities offered at Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna BC is their 60 foot Ice Tower. The only such tower in North America, this structure is looms as a huge, contoured block of ice in the center of Big White’s Adventure area, and yes, it’s intimidating! But here’s the best part: anyone can try to climb it…no experience necessary!

Big White Ice Tower

Ice climbing is normally an unapproachable sport for most people, which makes its inclusion at Big White all the more unique. While most of us have tried (or at least seen) man-made rock climbing walls, seeing an ice tower ready to climb is eye-opening. Looking at it straight up, it’s hard to imagine climbing it halfway, let alone to its pinnacle (where you can ring a bell to signal your victory), but the friendly staff here (as well as your cheering family and bystanders) make it possible.

Ice Tower Big White

To start our ice climbing experience, the whole family (yes, everyone…from my husband and me at 38 and 36 to our kids ages 13, 11, and 8) were outfitted with harnesses, ice picks, and ice climbing boots. We then made our way out to the tower, where our ice climbing experts showed us how to use our toe clamp-ons and picks to dig into the ice, and gave us tips (like use your legs, not your arms). We were then paired up with the correct side of the tower (there are varying degrees of difficulty), and took turns ascending.

Here’s how it went:

I won’t lie: it was hard! There were several times when I wasn’t sure where to put my foot or hand, and because the tower is made from frozen water (dripping as it wished), the ‘terrain’ is authentic. I didn’t look down–no way–and needed a few helpful boasts from the ice climber manning my rope (you’re constantly tied in). I made it however (though far behind my 13-year-old, who had youth on his side), and it definitely felt satisfying to ring that bell!

When I descended (repelling on the rope), my arms were shaky…clearly I hadn’t followed the ‘use your legs’ advice. My whole family made a strong effort, and my 11-year-old even made the whole climb with the use of only one arm (his right is broken and in a cast). This feat put him on the Big White Ice Tower record board, of which he was very proud.

Ice tower climbing

We all came away from the experience feeling on top of the world, having tried something completely new to all of us. I met with the owner of the tower, who reinforced that this is not unusual: he wanted to build the tower so that people could be introduced to the sport of ice climbing. If you get a taste for it, daily and season passes are available: many seasoned climbers use the tower as practice between climbs.

The details:

A single climb is only $20, and comes with all equipment needed. The Ice Tower is located in the Adventure zone area of Big White, adjacent to the Happy Valley Day Lodge. (And across from the Mega Coaster tubing area.) If not all family members are up for a climb, kids can be tubing while parents climb, or vice versa…though you’ll want to watch, trust me!

As I disclose whenever applicable, we climbed Big White’s Ice Tower as guests of Big White. While appreciated, this compensation did not come with expectation of a positive review.