Winona Ice Park draws national recognition


Elly Herrick

For $20, students of Winona State University have gotten the chance to climb the Winona Ice Park thanks to Outdoor Education & Recreational Center. The ice is located on the bluffs and is farmed by ice framers why hose water over the walls to freeze.

Elly Herrick, Online Editor

The Winona Ice park has often been touted as a hidden gem by locals. This man-made park is tucked away on the Sugarloaf Trailhead near Sugarloaf bluff. 

When weather permits it, typically from December to March, The Outdoor Education & Recreational Center (OERC) offers this experience for Winona State University students for $20 each. 

Using equipment offered by the OERC, the $20 cost is for renting ice climbing boots and the spiky crampon attached to the bottom of the boot.

In order to create the ice on the bluffs, ice framers use a stone wall and hundreds of feet of a hose to slowly pour water over the bluff to freeze. After it freezes, ice beautifully forms over the bluffs and can be viewed all the way from Lake Winona. 

According to Visit Winona, “the park offers 100 climbing routes and is officially the second biggest ice park in the country.” The Winona Ice Park offers climbing routes for all different types of experience-level climbers. With climbers coming from around the world, around 1,000 people come to climb at the park every year.

While the park is famous for ice climbing, many hikers and snowshoers have gone to the park to walk and watch ice climbers.

After previously being located in the west end of Winona, in 2019 the city of Winona partnered with a local non-profit, the Recreation Alliance of Winona, and decided to move the park to where it is now.

The park also has multiple positive impacts not only on the community but also on the surrounding environment. The prairie on top of the bluffs was overrun with harmful and toxic plants like Buckthorn and Honeysuckle. Due to maintenance and cleaning of the park, the prairie has been reclaimed.

First-year student Mckenna Hennager has had experience rock climbing with the OERC through the Warrior Expedition before school was in session and had fun participating in that trip.

“I signed up because I liked rock climbing Sugar Loaf, so I thought ice climbing would be fun too,” Hennager said.

After driving to the trailhead and parking, climbers like Hennager put on their harness and boots. After gathering materials for the climb, participants are now ready to begin making their way to the ice park at the Sugarloaf Trailhead.

“I thought that ice climbing would be easier than rock climbing because you make your own footholds,” Hennager said. “I wouldn’t say it was necessarily easier than rock climbing. They are similar activities, but also very different. For me, ice climbing was almost scarier because instead of footholds you had four weapons to climb with.”

After being told different techniques and ways to climb, participants were now able to ascend the wall. With an OERC instructor working with a belay clipped to both the participant and the OERC instructor, it was safe to start climbing.

“My favorite part about ice climbing was the feeling of accomplishment once you reach the top,” Hennager said. “Nothing can beat the adrenaline rush.”

Climbers with the OERC were allowed to stay from 12-4 p.m. After climbing to the top, participants were met with an awesome view. 

After climbing, climbers were told to walk back down the trail like a cowboy so they would not slip on the ice on the trail. 

“I really enjoyed it. I don’t know if I would go again, but it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Hennager said.