Ice Climbing Festival

Ouray’s Ice Fest Turns 25

By Karen Prather

Angelika Rainer climbing Ouray Ice Park. Courtesy Ouray Ice Park.

[Ouray Colo. | January 2020 | By Karen Prather]

OURAY, COLORADO’S, ICE PARK FESTIVAL celebrates the wintertime tradition of ice climbing in Western Colorado. This year’s celebration marks the event’s 25th anniversary. Taking place January 23 to 26, it includes video and photo presentations by top climbers, vendor booths, music, food, and dance.

The sport is a developing industry attracting participants and spectators from around the world to Ouray, and it draws worldwide news coverage. This year brings more events, vendors, and even more places to climb, with the addition of a new expo area, Aprés Climb.

Each January since 1995, the folks at Ouray Ice Park invite novice and pro ice climbers to “an absolute ice climbing mecca,” said Dan Chehayl, executive director of Ouray Ice Park. The festival lasts three days and four nights. Daily vendor exhibitions draw many ice climbing fanatics to demo the newest climbing tools and gear. Chehayl looks forward to one exciting demo in particular by the company, North Face, which plans on showing off their new, ultra-thin waterproof fabric, Futurelight.

The festival hosts an Elite Mixed Climbing Competition for ice climbers ready to put their agility skills to the test. Saturday and Sunday, January 25 & 26, hundreds of people gather at the top of the gorge above Ouray to watch ice climbers and mixed climbing competitors, many of whom are considered to be the best in the world.

Partnering with San Juan Mountain Guides, Ouray Ice Park offers more than 100 clinics and seminars to help climbers of all skill levels improve their technique. Both adult and child climbers are welcome to participate.

Presentations on the future of winter recreation in Ouray will be given as well as a live art installation. Chehayl and his team constructed a hollow metal sphere several feet in diameter, which they will cover in ice at the beginning of the festival. They fill the inside of the sphere with firewood and set it ablaze, illustrating the disappearing ice that makes this event possible.

The non-profit group, Protect Our Winters, will also be in attendance; proceeds from the event will help fund the Our Water, Our Future Capital Campaign for the ice park.

There is no registration necessary or fee to pay to climb with friends in the park, watch competitions, or browse vendors. Some nightly events do require paid passes, available from the ice fest website: ourayicepark.com/ouray-ice-festival.

About the Park

The Ouray Ice Park is a human-made ice climbing venue operated in a spectacular natural gorge within walking distance of the town of Ouray, Colo. The park has more than 100 named ice and mixed climbs, most within a 15-minute walk of the Park entrance.

Left: Angelika Rainer climbing Ouray Ice Park. Above: Spectators gather to watch the ice climbing competition.

Images courtesy Ouray Ice Park.