Since residents began experimenting with ice farming in the 1990s, Ouray has become a mecca for climbers. Here’s where to go to try your hand at ice climbing in Ouray
Winter can be approached with a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full attitude. You can either hibernate indoors and binge-watch Netflix, or you can figure out how your favorite summer sport translates to cold-weather fun. If you’re a hardcore climber, you’ll happily get your fix crawling up a sun-kissed rock face with bare hands or using crampons and an ice pick to spider up a frozen waterfall.
In the 1970s, ice climbing was almost exclusively a sport of the hardcore, and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains were a playground for daredevil ice pioneers. The town of Ouray started to attract curious climbers when whispers swirled of an old hydroelectric pipeline that leaked 80-foot icicles in the Uncompahgre River Gorge.
After the mining industry went bust in the 1980s, Ouray relied on summer tourist draws, like jeeping, to keep its economy afloat. But in the winter, Ouray turned into a ghost town. Bill Whitt and Gary Wild, both avid climbers and owners of the Victoria Inn, saw the gorge’s potential to drum up winter business. The two men hatched a crazy idea to run hoses down the gorge and started “farming” ice to create a man-made ice-climbing park. Today, what many had written off as a harebrained scheme is credited with not just reviving Ouray, but putting the town on the global climbing map.
Here are three ways to try your hand at ice climbing in Ouray:
- Chicks Climbing & Skiing offers two- to four-day women’s clinics. chickswithpicks.net
- Peak Mountain Guides offers courses in the ice park and backcountry. peakmountainguides.com
- The Ouray Ice Festival takes place Jan. 19-22. ourayicepark.com