From mid-December through mid-March, Ouray is full of climbing activity and good cheer, with “Have an Ice Day” greeting you from almost every open merchant and lodger’s window. Jim Donini, former president of the American Alpine Club, calls the Ouray Ice Park “the best venue in the world to develop ice-climbing skills,” and it’s easy to see why. The Ice Park is home to more than 200 ice and mixed climbs, most within a 15 to 30 minute walk from downtown Ouray. There are many opportunities to pick up the sport; you can hire an experienced local guide or attend one of the many seasonal clinics that have something for every group from beginner to expert, kid to adult, able-bodied to amputee.
The Ice Park is an engineering marvel, utilizing a gravity-fed plumbing system that routes more than 150,000 gallons of water a night to “farm” and maintain the famous blue ice. The park has been supported by memberships and the city of Ouray; more information is available on their website.
The man-made ice climbing venue is operated in a spectacular natural gorge in Ouray, just 10 miles south of Ridgway. Each winter, the park hosts the Ouray Ice Festival to celebrate the Park and raise funds for its operation. Despite the high cost of maintenance, the park has been free and open for public use. In nearly 20 years of operation, it has become one of the premier ice climbing venues in the world.
The range’s steep relief and deep gorges provide a superb venue for climbing. Roads carved into the sides of mountains throughout Ouray’s rich mining history provide stunning access to that terrain today. Classic ice climbs, such as Bird Brain Boulevard, Stairway to Heaven, and the Ames Ice Hose, along with natural waterfalls such as Bridal Veil Falls and extensive alpine terrain, make the San Juans a hub for world-class climbing.