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      Ice climbers invade Munising

      It's impossible to talk about Midwestern ice climbing without giving Michigan's U.P. an honorable mention. The shores of Lake Superior provide perfect conditions for experienced climbers and newcomers like myself.

      At Sunday morning's Ice Fest in Munising, Down Wind Sports helped beginners take a stab at it without a huge commitment. Co-owner Bill Thompson organizes the event.

      "Most people that are here are first time climbers," said Thompson. "That's why there's such good energy. They get so excited, so pumped up about the sport and so they can come in and check out that equipment without making a huge investment and see if they like the sport or not."

      It only costs beginners $40 to get the help they need from Down Wind. That covers equipment, three days of climbing assistance and instructional courses at the Munising curtains demo site.

      Experts say the curtains in Munising are a great place to learn how to ice climb due to their accessability and their small size.

      But Ice Fest isn't just for beginners. Although Canadian pro Raphael Slawinksi has climbed all over the world, there's something special about Munising that always draws him back.

      "At first glance, these are not mountains, and you associate climbing with mountains obviously not the Midwest," said Slawainski.

      "I think the really cool thing about climbing here is it's a pretty neat experience to be climbing, ice climbing above this huge body or near this huge body of water," he added.

      Slawinski is one of several pros that are sponsored to climb at Ice Fest. He spent much of his weekend teaching the activity, which has grown significantly. While last year's ice fest had 454 participants, Thompson says this year's will certainly top 500.