Point of interest
Scena da Glatsch

Scena da Glatsch

Standing here in the summer, looking down, it’s hard to imagine that people climb here. And how! The Ova da Bernina whitewater gorge is a magnet for ice-climbing enthusiasts from near and far. Every winter since 2007, Pontresina has constructed an ice-climbing centre here – another milestone in the village’s long tradition of mountaineering. Pontresina is the mountaineering village in the Grisons – thanks to the mighty Bernina range, where the Alps tower at an impressive 4048 metres above sea level before gradually levelling off toward the East. You can find out more about Pontresina as a mountaineering village using the QR code. More information about ice climbing can be found up the road at the «Suot la Via» site. 

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Ice Formation: a helping hand

When ice climbing developed into an Alpine discipline in its own right in the 1990s, local climbers also discovered the Ova da Bernina whitewater gorge, where water seeping through cracks in the rock formed individual icefalls, especially in the lower section.

Res Bähler, an innovative mountain guide from Pontresina, soon had the idea of lending a helping hand to this natural ice formation. In the winter of 2006/’07, his experiments with a fire hose to encourage additional ice to grow in the gorge succeeded.

Pontresina – Pioneers in ice creation

Since then, the local mountain guides have increasingly perfected methods of ice formation in the gorge. Pontresina is considered the pioneer of watering rock faces for ice climbing, and other destinations have since adopted the technique. 

In addition to its unique location in the centre of the village, the Pontresina gorge has the advantage of its altitude. Cold temperatures are constant over a long period of time, with up to 40 routes offering ideal ice-climbing conditions from mid-December to mid-March.

Reduce risks

Compared with ice climbing on ice falls in remote areas, there are fewer hazards in the Ova da Bernina whitewater gorge. The routes are made safe with platforms and anchor bolts (Mixed Routes), similar to a climbing park.

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Learn with the pros

Nevertheless, there are still risks associated with ice climbing in the Pontresina gorge. Chunks of ice can break off, triggered by other climbers, for example. Ice climbing is not possible without experience or professional guidance. We therefore recommend a taster course with the Pontresina mountaineering school. Some prior experience of rock climbing would be an advantage. 

Not all ice is the same

Because water remains in motion even when frozen, ice-climbing conditions can change in an instant, for better or worse. This transient and dynamic nature is what makes ice climbing so fascinating, but also complex and risky.


Hiking through the Gorge

If you want to experience the fascinating world of ice in a way other than vertically, we recommend winter canyoning in the whitewater gorge. The tour, which is a mixture of rope park and via ferrata, takes about two and a half hours.

Thanks to Res Bähler

Res Bähler, who brought ice climbing to the Pontresina gorge, was a well-known and popular mountain guide. In 2009, he guided television personality Nick Hartmann up Piz Bernina for the series SRF bi de Lüt. In February 2011, the experienced climber tragically died. As he was packing up his equipment after an ice climb in Val Fex, he was hit on the back of the head by a falling icicle. One day later, Res Bähler succumbed to his serious injuries. He was only 39 years old.

As well as many friends and mountain guide colleagues, Res Bähler left behind a great mountaineering legacy. Not only did he raise the profile of ice climbing in the Engadine; he also co-initiated and supervised the construction of the Pontresina Rope Park and the La Resgia Via Ferrata. He also developed and improved many climbing routes throughout the Bernina region.