New Hampshire hosts back-to-back ice climbing and backcountry ski festivals in February.
NORTH CONWAY, NH; January 4, 2024: For two weeks in early February, North Conway welcomes hundreds of climbers and skiers for two of the biggest winter festivals in outdoor recreation: the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest (Ice Fest) and the Mt. Washington Backcountry Ski Festival (Ski Fest). These back-to-back outdoor recreation festivals highlight New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Valley as the epicenter of adventure sports in the northeast. Ice Fest will be held February 2-4 and Ski Fest will be held February 8-11.
Celebrating its 31st anniversary in 2024, the MWV Ice Fest, sponsored by Arc’Teryx and organized by the International Mountain Climbing School, is one of the premier climbing events on the East Coast and one of the longest running ice climbing festivals in the country. The impetus for the festival is the location: the Mount Washington Valley is home to some of the world’s most concentrated and accessible ice climbing locations. Through skills clinics, gear demos, workshops, and evening events, Ice Fest draws diverse climbers and guides from across the U.S. and Canada.
The Mt. Washington Backcountry Ski Festival, sponsored by The North Face and managed by Backyard Concept and Synnott Mountain Guides, is the premiere backcountry event in the Northeast that brings together skiers and riders seeking first-class knowledge in the legendary terrain of the White Mountains. First held in 2017, Ski Fest offers gear demos, evening programs, vibrant aprés parties, and an extensive course library for skiers, riders, and outdoor enthusiasts. Courses span four days and include options such as introduction to backcountry, avalanche education, wilderness first aid, ski mountaineering, yoga, and Outdoor Office, a unique three-day immersive program that focuses on adventure journalism, photography, and videography. This year’s Ski Fest also marks the homecoming for featured athlete Caite Zeliff, a professional freeskier who spent her childhood in North Conway.
“When it comes to outdoor recreation, any time of year is exciting in Mt. Washington Valley, and in winter the stoke is especially high with two major events taking place right here,” said Michelle Cruz, Executive Director of the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The Ice Fest is well known to the winter outdoor recreation community, the biggest event of its kind in the country in its 31st year. And with the surge in popularity of the Mt. Washington Backcountry Ski Festival, we’re seeing world-class athletes and folks from around the globe come to our communities. These are the events people mark their calendars for a year in advance and plan their stay for multiple days in the Valley. It’s a huge part of the outdoor economy, bringing thousands of people to this area.”
Each event convenes professional athletes, experts and local guides to share cumulative knowledge and experiences throughout the two weekends. Ice Fest will welcome Ian Welsted, accomplished Canadian climber with a long list of first ascents and recipient of a Piolet D’or, an award that “celebrate[s] commitment, the taste for adventure, and the sense of exploration that lie behind the art of climbing in the world’s great mountain ranges.” Other notable climbers at the event include Graham Zimmerman, alpinist, author, and activist; Nikki Smith, photographer, author, and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community; and Marcus Garcia, lead coach and mentor for youth Team USA Ice Climbing.
Ski Fest’s featured athlete Caite Zeliff will return to her hometown to join two courses and be the keynote speaker on Saturday, February 10. After retiring from Division 1 ski racing at the University of New Hampshire, Caite headed to Jackson, WY, to chase a dream of skiing big mountain lines and deep snow. Caite was crowned Queen of Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole’s inaugural competition in 2018 and again in 2019. Since then, she’s gained sponsorships, become a member of The North Face athlete team, and is currently working on projects with Matchstick Productions in her new home base, Alaska. Other notable industry leaders at the Ski Fest will include Mardi Fuller, lifelong outdoor enthusiast and social justice advocate; David Goodman, renowned author of the award-winning guidebook Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast; and Kate Sullivan, host of NESN’s New Hampshire Life TV show.
For winter enthusiasts, Mt. Washington Valley stands as the heart of outdoor recreation in the Northeast. These two festivals epitomize the growth and demand for active, challenging, and unique sports that not only engage participants in the outdoors, but also aid the development of a deeper connection to the outdoor community and environment while fueling the local economy.