All that’s needed to get up and climbing at the new and improved park is more cold weather, said Ice Park Director Erin Eddy. The park is due to open this week, but that all depends on the temperature, Eddy said.
“Right now it sucks, but there’s no damage to what’s already been made,” he said, referring to base ice on the sides of the gorge.
In the meantime, Ice Park employees and volunteers are looking forward to a great season, because once the temperatures drop, they’ll be able to make a lot more “fat” ice than in years past, thanks to a new piping system.
Eddy said the park put in 1,200 feet of larger diameter pipe this year, which gives icemakers six times the pressure, he said. The city is currently providing the park with 250 gallons of water per minute to make climbing ice.
A potential problem was solved last week when the city found that when it ran water to both the city’s new micro-hydro plant and the ice park, that water pressure dropped too low, so the micro-hydro plant was temporarily shut down for a couple of weeks.
That turned out to be a good thing, said City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli at this week’s Ouray City Council meeting, because some bearings at the hydro plant needed to be replaced.
“It was time to replace them and now we can build face ice [at the Ice Park], and then we’ll be able to run both systems at the same time,” he said.
The city is also close to coming to agreement on a long-term lease with landowner Eric Jacobson, Rondinelli said, and the final document could be ready for approval at the next city council meeting on Dec. 20. Jacobson owns about 25 percent of Ice Park land, plus a catwalk for his penstock and other facilities the park connects to, Rondinelli said.
The city is also making slow but measurable progress toward purchasing 40 acres of U.S. Forest Service holdings in the Ice Park, and a new appraisal should be complete by the end of this month. Once the appraisal is finished, it goes back to the Forest Service for review and then back to the city to see if a price can be agreed upon, Rondinelli said.
This is the third appraisal of the Forest Service land in the Ice Park. The Forest Service appraised the 40 acres at $870,000, while the city appraised the parcel at $247,000. The city hopes the new appraisal will help close that gap.
But the city’s work won’t be done even then, because to complete the purchase it has to come up with the money, which Rondinelli projects will come from a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, fundraising during the Ice Festival and city funds.
In the meantime, the Ice Park continues to expand. Once run entirely by volunteers, the park now has five paid employees, Eddy said, and has expanded climbing areas each year. This year, the park is bringing back the former Sh**house Wall climbing area near the Box Canyon Visitors’ Center.
Another added feature is the Kids’ Climbing Wall, just above the gorge, where kids and novices can take lessons and put in some climbing time.
Although the park has expanded in size, the Ice Festival has also expanded in scope, Eddy said.
“It’s grown with the number of sponsors and attendees and in particular with instructional programs,” he said. “The clinics and kids’ college really kind of changed the face of everything the park does and attracted more and more folks interested in wanting to climb.”
This year, the Ice Festival will host more than 50 interactive climbing clinics, including 12 extended-length climbing seminars of six hours each.
At night, the festival hosts nightly slideshows with world-class mountaineers, auctions, parties, community meals and fundraisers. A highlight will be a zombie costume rave party on Elvis’ birthday, Jan. 8. The party evolved from a private after-party to a public event sponsored by climbing gear manufacturer Petzl, he said, one of many social events for both locals and visitors.
But for now, all that’s needed is for the temperature to drop, Eddy said.
“If it’s below freezing, that’s all we care about,” he said. “It just needs to get cold.”