Ice Festivals: Gatherings of the Tribe

by Jeff Golden
CMC Marketing Manager

It’s happening more every year.

“Anyone want to head down to Ouray for the Ice Fest? I’m looking at rooms.”

“No, we’re planning to go another weekend. It’s too crowded.”16143851_875368123701_4216306018792650178_o

The number of regular ice-climbing partners I have that make the annual pilgrimage to Ouray continues to dwindle. In 2017, I could count my compatriots on one hand. The excuse always centers on one major gripe: crowds.

This is not to say the Ouray Ice Festival is suffering. As with every year that came before, the 2017 festival featured exciting competitions, dozens and dozens of sponsors, fully booked clinics and standing-room-only nightlife. For many veteran ice climbers, however, it’s simply something you check out once and then avoid in favor of ice that doesn’t include queues.

I think that’s missing the point.

Ice festivals are about much more than grinding out laps. They’re cropping up everywhere these days — Cody, Valdez, Bozeman, Lake City, New Hampshire, even Michigan —  and with good reason. Fests serve as the quintessential Gathering of the Tribe, a (slightly) more tame version of the annual Rendezvous made famous by mountain men in the early 1800s. It’s a time to get together over a few beers, swap stories, celebrate accomplishments, rub shoulders with famous climbers, learn or practice a skill, scope out fresh gear, make plans, and connect with friends new and old. You can seek a dozen laps on pristine ice most weekends. You can only find such an atmosphere at a fest.

10959722_10205968386869537_3020614176973547726_nThe 2017 festival in Ouray was my favorite yet, and I only got in a handful of laps each morning. That was a mild bummer, but I also watched a friend climb WI5 on his first day ever swinging tools, shared a burger and enthusiastic conversation with people I’d barely known that morning, cheered on friends in the elite competition and viewed an engaging presentation from Ines Papert.

The best part, of course, is discussing the craft with other ice climbers from around the world. Whether they’re a 20-year veteran putting up new lines outside Podunk, Alaska, or a recent transplant to Colorado swinging tools for the first time, everyone is simply stoked on frozen water and the myriad ways we have to ascend it.

Tonight I’ll pack for yet another ice festival, this one in the sleepy winter town of Lake City. It’s more low-key than Ouray, but the same challenges remain. An alpine start is necessary or you’ll be waiting in line for the choice routes, and it would be hard to describe the crowd as anything less than a swarm. I’m looking forward to getting on the ice, sure. What am I most excited about, though?

Another weekend among the tribe.


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