By Robin Lindsay
After learning to ice climb last winter and seeing and hearing a lot about the famed Ouray Ice Festival, I decided to make the trip down to Ouray and spend the weekend there. Every January the Ouray Ice Park hosts the Ice Festival, a celebration and gathering of ice climbers that includes food, beer, swag, climbing clinics, gear demos and a mixed climbing competition. Since it is free to climb in the Ice Park, the Ice Fest is their primary fundraiser each year. A group of friends had the foresight to book a great condo months in advance. We arrived Friday afternoon, checked in, and after relaxing for a bit we set out to explore the town. I had never been to Ouray in any season and greatly enjoyed the views of nearby peaks and “Welcome Ice Climbers!” banners seen around town. Ouray has a cozy, mountain town feel, a charming downtown Main street, and a hot spring pool that is open year round. It is also home to two breweries – Ouray Brewery and Ourayle House Brewery, affectionately known as Mr. Grumpy Pants.
Photo by Justina Yeiser
Saturday morning meant an early alarm and chilly walk through town, which was cut short when our group was picked up by one of several small yellow school buses acting as free shuttles for the Ice Fest. We were dropped off at the entrance to the Ice Park and spread out to find the gear we wanted to try. For $5 a day (purchased in advance), participants can rent boots, harnesses, ice tools, crampons, and even gloves and jackets from a wide variety of outdoor equipment brands. Having only a harness, helmet, and winter apparel, I got a pair of boots, crampons, and ice tools to use for the day. Once the group was back together, we headed up into the canyon to set up a few routes.
Vendor booths (photo: Justina Yeiser)
Ice Fest weekend is certainly not the best opportunity to climb in the Ice Park as it draws large crowds and some areas are closed for climbing clinics. We had to wait around for a while before an anchor became available, but it was difficult to be upset when surrounded by a welcoming community of climbers and beautiful views of the canyon and surrounding area. We were finally able to set up a top rope in New Funtier, and a duo of climbers next to us were kind enough to share their route. It was the very first time ice climbing for a few in our group, and the rest had varying levels of experience. Everyone got to climb at least a couple times.
Trying out some WI3 routes in New Funtier (photo: Justina Yeiser)
Saturday afternoon was the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition, with competitors from around the world. The first part of the route is mostly ice, and above that is a platform with a crack and holds for dry tooling. There are many vantage points for spectators to watch the competitors figure out how to navigate the platform before the clock runs out. Only one climber was able to top out on the route this year, Colorado’s own Ryan Vachon. The park closes in the afternoon and vendors pack up, but the festivities continue throughout the evenings with film screenings, dinners, and a dance party. We finished our day with a happy hour at Mr. Grumpy Pants, a dinner, and a long soak in the hot springs.
Competition area (photo: Justina Yeiser)
I would have loved to stay several more days, but Sunday morning came too soon and we had to pack up and head home. A visit to Ouray wouldn’t be complete without getting a chocolate ice climber from Mouse’s Chocolates and Coffee, so we stopped in and then began the snowy drive back to Denver. Supporting the Ice Park couldn’t be more fun, and I already can’t wait for next year!