Ice climbing is not as impossible as you’d think—and one Morgantown resident excels at it.
While the weather may be starting to warm up soon, things are always cool for Morgantown’s resident ice climber, Dan Koepke. At least, we hope they are—for safety reasons.
Koepke has been a member of the USA Ice Climbing Team since 2020 and is currently ranked No. 2 in the country. We caught up with him while he was preparing to compete in the UIAA Ice Climbing European Cup in Glasgow last week.
Q: While most mountaineers are climbing—well, mountains—you’re on mountains of ice. How did that happen?
Dan Koepke: I started rock climbing as a teenager and have always really identified as a mountaineer. Before we moved to West Virginia, we were living in Seattle, and my father climbed Mount Rainier. I have always had this aspiration of being a strong mountaineer like my father.
In 2011, I moved to Alaska for about 10 years. The majority of my experience in ice climbing started there. To be a mountaineer, you need to have a wide skill set to be able to climb—like navigating rock, using ropes, and climbing ice—to manage any scenario or mountain. At first, I started climbing ice as it related to climbing mountains, but then I fell in love with it.
Q: I’m sure ice climbing has a unique training process. What is yours like?
DK: I’ll compare it a bit to mountaineering or rock climbing. You want to be able to have aerobic fitness—strong shoulders and back are really helpful. In normal rock climbing, you need strong fingers. For gripping the ice tools, you have to have strong forearms, too. Sometimes our entire weight is on one tool for minutes at a time.
Q: What have your experiences taught you about yourself or the sport?
DK: It’s nice to set goals for ourselves that are so big they’re a surprise. When I set the goal to be on Team USA, I knew I would grow and learn from the experience of trying, but didn’t know if I would make it. It’s important to feel comfortable falling short while also setting ourselves up to succeed, to keep in mind that having some goals that allow us to try our best is more important than actually being the best.
Q: What is your favorite thing about competing?
DK: I enjoy interacting with and getting to know the other competitors. We’re really ambassadors for our country, and it’s a beautiful thing to have everyone together. There is no one but ourselves out there when we’re competing, but a lot of the meaning comes from being the best we can be together. As much as I enjoy seeing different places and visiting new countries, some of the most heartwarming parts of competing come from seeing how we support each other.
Q: What does the future look like for you and the ice?
DK: I am hoping to get more people involved in ice climbing in the state and help some locals or other Americans achieve their dreams and pursue competitive climbing. Many people helped me in my career—the more I achieve my dreams, the more I enjoy helping others do the same. I’m in the process of launching a community-oriented hub for climbing and mountaineering resources from a local to international level called Aim & Adventure.
You can follow Koepke’s travels and climbing career on Instagram at @dankoepke.