The Ice Factor, Kinlochleven

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Dave Redpath - 16/12/2003

On the 14th of December ScottishClimbs got an early view of the new Ice Factor climbing centre at Kinlochleven.

The Ice Factor will feature the world's biggest indoor ice climbing arena, artificial climbing walls by Entreprise, bouldering area and beginners instruction cave. Complemented by a steam room and hot tub, lecture facilities, mountaineering shop and cafeteria. All in a stunning highland location overlooking the Mammores.

The opening week from 27th Dec to 3rd January will feature mountaineering films, lectures and workshops from some of the worlds leading climbers. Events culminating in a huge Hogmanay Party with 3 bands and 3 bars licensed to 3am.


A new dawn for Kinlochleven

Owners of the centre anticipate up to 50,000 visitors a year catering not only for the 'hard core' mountaineering market, but also the 1.5 million tourists who visit Lochaber each year, an area as renowned for its changeable weather as its stunning mountain scenery.

The future for Kinlochleven is a far cry from the village's prospects a few years ago when Alcan announced the closure of the Aluminium works in the village. Kinlochleven was faced with the loss of the area's largest employer and resultant downturn in support industries and jobs.

The legacy of Kinlochleven's electricity generating past was a scarred and polluted landscape. Now after decontamination, Sea Trout once again run in Loch Leven. Housing stock has been upgraded, new parks and tree planting established and a purpose built Business Park erected on the old Alcan Site.

The building once used as a filthy, pollution-producing aluminium smelting plant has been reborn as the world's biggest indoor ice climbing centre. Before work could begin Kinlochleven Land Development spend 12 million on wiping out the contaminated legacy of the aluminium smelting industry. This involved removing waste and old engineering materials, demolishing disused buildings and cleaning up the site.

This transformation has been the result of the combined efforts of the Kinlochleven Land Development Trust (KLDT), Lochaber Enterprise, Highland and Island Enterprise, European Regional Development Fund, Highland Council and Alcan. With the recent mothballing of Glencoe Ski-Centre, the importance of the Ice Factor to the local economy has grown.

The Vision

Ice climbing is arguably the most exciting and challenging form of our mountain sport, but the difficulties of doing it in Scotland are well catalogued. Wherever you choose to go you're inevitably faced with a long walk-in, changeable snow conditions and the danger of avalanche. Founder and Director of the Ice Factor Ltd Jamie Smith stated . . .

"Winter Mountaineering is an exhilarating sport and has thousands of devotees in the UK. A frozen gully in Glen Coe or Ben Nevis is not the safest place to master the skills and techniques it demands. We are offering everyone, irrespective of whether they've climbed on ice before the opportunity to try it out for themselves in the relative safety of a controlled, indoor environment"

The relative safety of the indoor environment and the through level of training and instruction that will be available have already been welcomed by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) and the Glencoe Mountain Rescue team. MCofS has also awarded the Ice Factor regional centre excellence status and declared it a site of National Importance because of the ice. That's before its even open!

The Partnership

When the 2.4 million Ice Factor opens in December it will be a testimony to what can be achieved with the partnership of public and private sector investment. Venture capital who provided initial funding wanted the centre to be built in Manchester. Only after a bothy trip above Blackwater reservoir did Jamie spot the building and approach Councillor Drew-McFarlane Slack with his idea.

After a joint presentation to members of the European Commision Jamie and Drew secured over 250,000 of sponsorship from commercial backers. A notable omission is the late Andy Anderson who was pivotal in securing 275,000 from Sport Scotland. The funding that was the missing link which allowed the funding chain to come together. Andy was previously Director of Glenmore Lodge (The National Outdoor Centre) and a pioneer of mountain safety in the UK. Although sad Andy never lived to see this landmark project come to fruition, the centre will be dedicated to Andy's memory.

Bringing Ice Climbing in from the Cold

Recreating our environment never comes easy. In nature, a repeated process of freeze-thaw produces the best ice climbing conditions. To recreate these conditions has taken some pioneering engineering from a multi-skilled team resulting in the construction of what is basically a giant freezer. Capable of lowering temperatures down to minus 50 Deg, the ice room has been underpinned by a 15 metre thick concrete foundation to take the massive weight of the ice.

Like a conventional indoor climbing arena, the room is laid out in a steel frame to support the weight of the climbing walls. The frame is then overlaid with reinforcing bar to form aretes, edges and gullies and other features. A 9-mile maze of coolant pipes is laid behind the rebar and the whole thing sprayed with concrete, making an ideal surface for the ice to adhere to.

To create mountain Neve a team of packers have been busy hand placing compacted snow onto the wall to create a surface up to 1 foot thick. This surface creates ideal placements for ice picks, giving considerably better placements over pure water ice. Combined with natural dry tooling features the centre has recreated the ideal training facility for the most technical of Scottish winter routes.

The Facilities

Apart from the centres naming feature further artificial climbing walls are available provided by Entreprise. Split into 2 caves the first offers beginners facilities for instruction and training. The second cave has 3 well features walls the second containing an articulated section which can swing back electronically to 60 Degrees.

Bouldering panels at various steep angles are also provided above the retail area for the tweaking up of highland fingers. A featured section is also provided donated by the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team.

An on site gear shop will allow climbers visiting the ice factor to try out the latest equipment thanks to sponsorship from Allcord, Mountain Technology, Gortex and Haglofs. For those in need of brief RNR the centre has a steam room and hot tub and sizable cafeteria overlooking the Mammores.

See You There

Director Jamie Smith is sure his baby will be a winner, "Every year, thousands and thousands of climbers visit nearby Glen Coe and 50,000 people walk the West Highland Way, which goes right past the front door. These are the kind of people that will be naturally attracted to the Ice Factor. But we're also building the kind of place that mum and dad can bring the kids for a taste of adventure on a wet summer afternoon."

The Ice Factor opens to the public on 27th December 2003 with a size-day party that includes demonstrations, competitions, lectures and mountain films from some of the best mountaineers in the United Kingdom and Europe. Top Scottish band Wolfstone will play in the bells for Hogmanay guaranteeing the biggest hooly in the highlands with a huge party for 1,200 people in a marquee alongside the facility. For details on pricing and Hogmanay events visit,

A video of our tour is also available here (Remember to right click save target as!).

ScottishClimbs wishes to thank Alan Halewood centre manager for allowing as a sneak preview of the centre, and giving us the grand tour.

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