HomeNewsThis Small Colorado Town Attracts Thousands of Ice Climbers Each Year

This Small Colorado Town Attracts Thousands of Ice Climbers Each Year

by Victoria Santiago
(Photo by: Visions of America/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Each winter, the Ouray Ice Park draws thousands of ice climbers and visitors to the small Colorado town for an annual Ice Festival. They compete in a variety of ice-climbing activities. The 27th Ouray Ice Festival was held last weekend. This year, there were around 2,000 people in attendance. The small Colorado town of Ouray has a population of about half that.

The festival has been around since the 90s. Of course, it didn’t always draw so many ice climbers or visitors. What started as a couple of people running garden hoses over cliffs has turned into a yearly tradition for many people. In fact, people even bring their babies to the festival. For one couple, they hope that their daughter will enjoy the festival and the sport as much as they do. The couple had never even ice climbed before they started coming to the festival a few years ago. Since then, they’ve found themselves as part of a tight-knit ice climbing group.

The annual festival welcomes ice climbers of all skills – experts and amateurs alike are welcome. There are even areas for kids to learn. Ice climbing is definitely a smaller sport, but the park hopes that more and more people will start coming to the yearly festival. They seem to be on the right track. There have already been lines of people at the park, waiting for their first ever try on an ice wall. “There’s something special about conquering a wall full of ice and getting to the top and saying to yourself ‘I did that,'” said one Ouray Ice Festival volunteer.

Ice Climbers Come Together to Keep the Park Open

The Ouray Ice Park is the “gravitational epicenter of ice climbing in North America,” according to Peter O’Neil, executive director of the ice park. Not only that, but the ice park is an integral part of the small Colorado town’s winter revenue. The park makes its own ice, with the help of “ice farmers.” The park has grown significantly since the 90s. This year, there were over 150 routes that spanned a mile and a half.

For a while, people were unsure if the Ouray Ice Festival would actually happen this year, or ever again. Last spring, the park suffered major damages. 12,000 pounds of debris were dropped over the park after a rockfall. Of course, the park needed a lot of repairs to be able to reopen. Thankfully, the ice climbing community and the Ouray community came together to pay for repairs. All in all, it cost over $100,000 to repair all of the damages done to the park. Through it all, the Ouray Ice Park has remained free to enter. The park is run by a nonprofit, so they generally rely on donations and fundraisers to keep the park open.