Ouray Ice Park Unveils Plans for New Climbing Structure

by Samantha Wright
Aug 09, 2012 | 2307 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
COMPETITION ROUTE – Ouray Mayor Bob Risch and City Councilman Gary Hansen view plans for a new climbing structure which will be used for the competition route at the 2013 Ouray Ice Festival. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
COMPETITION ROUTE – Ouray Mayor Bob Risch and City Councilman Gary Hansen view plans for a new climbing structure which will be used for the competition route at the 2013 Ouray Ice Festival. (Photo by Samantha Wright)
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OURAY – With an eye to wooing back European talent and potentially, one day soon, hosting the Ice Climbing World Cup, a towering new idea is taking shape in Ouray’s ice climbing community.

Ouray Ice Park, Inc., the nonprofit entity that oversees operations at the Ouray Ice Park and puts on the annual Ouray Ice Festival, won unanimous approval from the Ouray City Council this week to construct a giant, overhanging artificial wall on the rim of the Uncompahgre Gorge to accommodate a more challenging and crowd-pleasing competition route during the annual Ouray Ice Festival.

The idea for the structure emerged after numerous complaints at last year’s Ice Festival that it is too hard to watch ice climbers scaling the competition route, when they are laboring deep down in the narrow shaded guts of the Uncompahgre Gorge.

“The event is outgrowing the canyon,” explained OIPI’s “ice farmer in chief” Kevin Koprek, who as Ice Park operations manager is responsible for grooming the ice on the comp route in cooperation with the route designer each year.

“Overwhelmingly, in our response from last year’s festival, the number one criticism was that people couldn’t see what was going on during the competition,” Koprek said. “We heard that from our sponsors, from competitors, from locals – everyone complained that you can’t see the route.”

The new climbing wall will solve that problem in grand style, popping competitors out of the canyon and onto the wall for all the world to see. The wall will be installed near the Ice Park’s lower bridge, in the heart of the area where the annual Ice Festival takes place. A natural amphitheater there could be developed to create a safe viewing area for large crowds during the competition.

“My vision is five years from now, there will be 3,000 people watching every move of the route, from bottom to top,” Koprek said.

Once the structure is manufactured and installed later this fall, Koprek envisions growing two “beautiful columns of ice” on either side of it, where speed-climbing competitions can take place.

It’s all intended to bring the Ouray Ice Festival into a new era, hopefully attracting back elite European climbers who seem to have recently lost interest in Ouray.

“During the last winters, there has been a noticeable lack of European talent showing up,” Koprek noted. “We would like to draw some of that back. We can’t put a finger on why. There are more and more events happening around the world, so the pool just becomes more shallow.”

Members of OIPI are currently collaborating with Bozeman Ice Festival organizers in Montana to discuss how to bring the Ice Climbing World Cup event to North America. Until now, this most prestigious of ice climbing competitions has been held exclusively on European soil.

“They’re really looking for us to drive the process,” Koprek said. “So we need to be right out in front. It is possible the World Cup could be in Ouray some day.”

Brad McMillon of McMillon Engineering, a member of the OIPI Board, did the design work for the new climbing structure and presented his plans to the Ouray City Council on Monday night, Aug. 6. Council approval was needed because the City of Ouray owns the land where the structure will be built, and provides administrative oversight for the Ice Park.

The proposed structure is basically a giant climbing wall, which will overhang the Uncompahgre Gorge by 15 degrees to 45 degrees, depending on the desired amount of difficulty. It will be 24 feet tall and eight feet across, with both north-facing and south-facing walls to allow climbing on two sides. It will be made from steel framing with a “tastefully painted” plywood skin fastened with artificial rock climbing holds for dry tooling. It will be taken down when not in use for the Ice Festival.

Ouray metalworker Jeff Skoloda has been selected to do the fabrication; Skoloda also manufactured many of the viewing platforms and catwalks in the Ice Park. OIPI projects the cost of the wall should not exceed $15,500.

The new climbing structure will be installed at the Ice Park in the first week of November.

“We want this to be a magnet,” McMillon said. “Everybody feels this will launch us into 21st century. It will keep us viable. This is at the World Cup level.”

swright@watchnewspapers.com

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