The 16th annual Ouray Ice Festival, the longest-running ice festival in North America, kicks off today when upwards of 4,000 climbers, spectators, sponsors and competitors converge on sleepy Ouray for four days of frozen fun.
The event centerpiece, as always, will be the International Ice Climbing Competition, on Saturday, Jan. 8, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the High Bridge. Last year’s first and second place finishers, Josh Wharton and Sam Elias, will return to defend their titles. They were the only competitors to finish the devilishly hard mixed ice-and-rock route in the allotted 20 minutes. (Elias made the full pull with exactly two hair-raising seconds to spare.) Women’s competitors from last year, Zoe Hart and Dawn Glanc, are also returning with a half-dozen other top distaff climbers.
Festivarians can watch, as well as compete in special competitions of their own. The North Face will once again sponsor its popular Ice Axe Throwing Challenge, Saturday, Jan. 8, 12-2 p.m., at the Low Bridge. You can try your balance skills at the Slackline Exhibition. And, new this year, on Friday night (6:30-8:30 p.m.) at the Community Center, anyone with the chops can tackle the Treadwall Speed Climbing Challenge – for bragging rights and cash prizes.
Hundreds of climbing families make the trek to Ouray over festival weekend to partake in the 60 climbing clinics offered by event sponsors, who set up their circus-like tent city on the canyon rim below the Low Bridge. There’s a Kids Climbing College on Saturday (10 a.m.-3 p.m.), with all instruction and equipment provided.
In addition to the World Cup atmosphere of the comps, there is the circus-like vibe among the sponsor tents, with food and demos and live-action television screens.
Evenings will be turned over to slideshows Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights. On Saturday night, there will be a special screening of Conrad Anker’s movie The Wildest Dream, about his search for George Mallory’s remains on Mount Everest.
There’s a live auction Saturday night at the Community Center with some very intriguing climbing antiquities up for bid, including a wooden ice axe signed by Sir Edmund Hilary, Tom Hornbein, Chris Bonington, Royal Robbins, Fred Beckey, Jim Bridwell, Apa Sherpa, and others.
All proceeds from the festival go to the Ouray Ice Park, Inc., the nonprofit which runs the Park, and the Ouray Volunteer Fire Department. For more information and a complete schedule, go to ourayicefestival.com.