Ouray, in southwestern Colorado, booms in the summer months when people come from all over to enjoy its hot springs, amazing hikes and ATV trails, and the stunning San Juan Mountain scenery. But the once-sleepy winter season now attracts a new kind of visitor: the ice climber. And the reason is the Ouray Ice Park, located within walking distance of town in a dramatic gorge. One of the country’s first man-made ice parks, it was built by climbers who noticed huge ice falls formed by an old leaking water pipe above the gorge. Their efforts to “farm” ice from the pipe led to the creation of 200 climbing routes. Each January, thousands of climbers and spectators converge here for the Ouray Ice Festival, one of the largest events of its kind. Despite the cost of maintaining the park, it remains free to the public.
- Be sure to check their website, ourayicepark.com, before visiting as a sudden spell of warm weather can cause the park to shut down. In 2017 the park was forced to close in early February because of the weather.
- The park doesn’t rent gear or offer lessons, though private outfitters including San Juan Mountain Guides, Peak Mountain Guides and Ouray Sports will.
- Crampons and helmets are required for all visitors. Minors must be supervised by an adult.
Recommended season(s): Mid-December to mid-March.
—R. Scott Rappold