Months after a destructive rockfall raised doubts, southwest Colorado's famous winter climbing destination is expected to open for the season.

Peter O'Neil, executive director of the nonprofit that manages Ouray Ice Park, said mid-December is the goal as always. As always, opening depends on cold, overnight temperatures that allow ice farmers to spray water and develop frozen drapes and daggers that have become an international sensation in the Uncompahgre River Gorge.

The status quo expectations are a relief to O'Neil.

"When (the rockfall) initially happened, it was like, 'Oh my god, this is catastrophic,'" he said.

In March, O'Neil was among observers on the edge of the gorge who looked down at the scene and felt a mix of emotions: joy, for no one was in the park to be harmed or killed, and dread for the park's immediate future.

A boulder had lurched from the canyon wall above, tearing through the metal walkway climbers took to some of their favorite routes. Along with that, the boulder wrecked penstock and pipes that delivered the water responsible for the majority of the park's routes.

O'Neil recalled a conversation with a structural engineer. "He said, 'Boy, this is gonna cost you easily $100,000.'"

Thus launched a fundraising campaign. It was "an incredibly ambitious campaign for a nonprofit organization that has never fundraised for such a high amount in such a short period of time," O'Neil wrote on the GoFundMe page in May.

At that time, after just six week, Ouray Ice Park had raised closer to $101,000. Since then, helicopters have flown over the gorge to plant pillars holding up the new walkway and water pipes.

Mission accomplished, O'Neil said — thanks to more than 1,000 donors local and abroad.

"It says this place really means a lot to a lot of people," O'Neil said.

The park means a lot to the local economy. Last winter, rangers counted about 22,000 climbers, 5,000 more than the year prior.

It's traffic Ouray has come to count on in the park's 24 years. That followed winters in which Ouray resembled a ghost town, with restaurants taking turns to open for locals.

"What I like to say is the Ouray Ice Park is to Ouray as the ski hill is to Telluride," O'Neil said.

But the rockfall underscored lingering threats, considering the park's vertical geography. Reconstruction included mitigation to prevent other collapses in the near term, O'Neil said. But later?

"It's just something that happens," he said. "All we can do is be aware of it."


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