Michigan Ice Fest and Teaching an Ice Climbing Photography Clinic

Wow, Bill Thompson and the crew of Downwind Sports did a stellar job at the 2016 Michigan Ice Fest! There were a number of sponsors in the mix this year, led by the charge of Black Diamond as Title Sponsor. We’ve been attending the event for years and this one certainly raised the bar!

The previous 2 years, Mike had been mixing work and play in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) during Ice Fest; they were some of Michigan’s coldest winters on record (-10 degree days, and a punishing wind-chill factor on top of that) and he was out in the elements shooting ice climbing photos and video.

Mike hanging out on the north shore of Grand Island prepping to film clips of Raphael Slawinski climbing.

Some of his photos from those seasons caught the attention of Rock & Ice, Climbing Magazine, and even Red Bull jumped on board to give the U.P. ice climbing scene some props in this article, for which Mike provided most of the photos for.

It was all of this attention, and the fact that Mike was working with Aaron Peterson of Clear & Cold Cinema to help film The Michigan Ice Film, that Bill Thompson asked Mike if he’d be interested in teaching an Ice Climbing Photography Clinic at the 2016 Ice Fest. Ice Climbing + U.P. + teaching = winning combination for Mike!

So, in February of 2016, we hit the road for Munising, MI and couldn’t have had better weather driving over the Mighty Mac.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and touched-base with Bill, learning that we had Friday to do as we wished and that the clinic Mike would be teaching was going to be Saturday.

This gave Mike an opportunity to get out to the climb known as Dairyland with some pals, one of which also worked on The Michigan Ice Film. He brought along his Panasonic GH4 and shot this photo of Erik Olsen rappelling in to the climb. As you can see, Lake Superior was alive and well…the climb was frozen, but the lake only offered up a portion of shelf ice.

Friday’s wind gusts were up to 25mph and the temperature got as high as 13. Mike is more attune to these conditions than I am…so my blurry hand-held iPhone photos won’t be making it into this post.

Saturday we were served up single digit temps, occasional sunshine and low winds – plus we were in an alcove for the photography clinic, which made for a pleasant teaching environment.

Downwind sports hooked us up with some of the gear to use, including a static line from Sterling Rope (one of the festival sponsors), slings, ascenders and the like. In addition to talking about the gear (bags, climbing equipment, etc.) he used, Mike was armed with his Canon 5Dmkii and talked about composing the shot and spent some time coaching participants on camera settings that would help capture the best images of action and in bright snowy conditions.

Next up was to explain what each piece of climbing gear was and why it was used in order for the photographer to be safely suspended and take photos.

Each of the participants got a chance to give jugging a try and to take a few photos while they were suspended.

Our small group of climbing photographers made the most of the day and wrapped things up with a group shot before heading back to Ice Fest Headquarters to get ready for the evening’s festivities.

The highlight of Saturday evening for us was attending the premiere of The Michigan Ice Film; after spending 3 winters helping to work on the film, Mike was ready for it’s debut. We joined a sold-out crowd of over 600 people in Mather Auditorium. Before the film played, Aaron did a great job sharing accolades to the film crew, with a special nod to Mike for jugging lines and capturing the ice climbing action alongside the athletes.

After the film, there was cause for much celebration – Mike, Aaron, and Jon were joined for a photo op by two athletes that were part of the film, Sam Elias and James Loveridge.

Then, the next thing I knew Mike was huddled around a guidebook with Sam and James, already thinking about what to go after next season.

We wrapped up Ice Fest climbing with some Michigan pals and then spent another week in the U.P. for a little bit of work and a little bit of play. As always, we’re looking forward returning again next season!