18th Annual Ice Festival Just Around the Corner
OURAY – The psych is high among ice climbers near and far as the Ouray Ice Park prepares for opening day this weekend with cool new climbs beckoning in the far southern reaches of the park.
“We had the Deep South, and now we have the Delta,” joked chief ice farmer and Ouray Ice Park operations manager Kevin Koprek of the climbs, which lie beyond an area known as the “New Funtier,” about a half-mile walk up the Uncompahgre Gorge from the central part of the Ouray Ice Park.
“It’s not new terrain, but we are maximizing our water supply to create some new climbs in that area,” Koprek said. Two of the climbs are fairly moderate, while a couple others are harder, with steep ice and opportunities for mixed climbing, which is becoming more and more popular among experienced ice climbers at the park.
“It’s the new flashy thing,” Koprek said.
The lack of snow this winter, coupled with a recent cold snap, has led to ideal ice making conditions leading up to opening day this Saturday, Dec. 22. Even the unseasonably warm weather in November meant good things for the ice, because it allowed young icicles that were just forming to swell and join together, forming a solid foundation. Koprek and his team spent their time during those mild November days working on the water line that delivers water via a complex system of pipes, hoses and shower heads along a mile-long stretch of the narrow, shady Uncompahgre Gorge.
Once the cold weather set in several days ago, the bulk of the ice in the park formed over a period of about two nights. Come Saturday, the entire mile-long length of the park and 100 percent of its routes will be open for climbing.
This is Koprek’s second season helming operations at the Ouray Ice Park. He is joined by helpers Dan Chehayl and Bud Miller. Right now, they are running the water as much as possible to help the ice set in before the park opens to climbers. This weekend, the team will shift to a schedule of turning on the water at around 4 p.m. and shutting it off at 7 a.m. to grow the fat, cascading ribbons of steep blue ice for which the Ouray Ice Park is renowned.
Ouray Ice Park, Inc. (the nonprofit organization that oversees the Ice Park) had announced on its website that Saturday, Dec. 15 was its tentative target for opening the park this year. However, a week ago, the young ice was still too thin and fragile to allow climbers to come in and attack it with picks and crampons.
The weeklong postponement of opening day led to some grumbling within the Ice Park’s huge fan base.
“People really hang their hats on tentative language and start making plans around it,” OIPI board president Mike MacLeod said. “That date means a lot to people. But, we can’t control the weather. The middle three weeks of December have always been our broad target.”
Koprek, MacLeod, and the rest of the OIPI crew have been amazed at the groundswell of enthusiasm for the Ice Park in the social media world. ““They are out there and they are interested,” MacLeod said. “I’ll post some picture or pithy remark and an hour later, I’ll have 100 ‘likes’.”
There is also a lot of buzz building up around the upcoming 18th Annual Ouray Ice Festival, set for Jan. 10-13, 2013.
The centerpiece of the festival will be a 3.5 ton, 25-foot tall steel structure recently installed in the Lower Bridge area of the Ouray Ice Park where the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition will be staged. It is mounted in such a way that it can overhang the Uncompahgre Gorge by 15 degrees to 45 degrees, depending on route setter Vince Anderson’s desired level of difficulty.
According to MacLeod, 2013 is shaping up to have the deepest field of female competitors that the fest has seen in many years. “It looks to be the strongest and deepest field we have had in years,” he said. “The women’s field is unbelievable. It’s very exciting. There is some real international flair.”
OIPI is also excited to bring back a speed climbing competition to the fest in 2013. $16,000 in prize money is on the line between the two competitions. OIPI will be releasing the line-up of competitors well in advance of the Ice Festival, rather than keeping the names secret as has been the practice in the past. A slew of new sponsors will be supporting this year’s fest, including ski boot manufacturer Dynafit, recruited to supply gear for a new backcountry skiing component of the Ice Festival.
Clinics are almost full at this point, MacLeod reported, particularly those led by high-profile climbers returning to this year’s fest, such as Conrad Anker and Ines Papert.
Ice Fest organizers are also excited about the extracurricular activities to be offered. As slideshow presenters Sam Elias, Ines Papert and Hayden Kennedy hold forth on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the Main Street Theater in Ouray, there will also be a concurrent mini-film festival happening at the Wright Opera House, featuring among other things, the world premier of the film Incan Odyssey on Friday, Jan. 11. Several of the film’s star mountaineers will be present for the premier.
Free zipline rides, adult walk-up climbing and the Kids Climbing College round out the fun festival offerings.
On a related matter, the Ouray City Council adopted on second reading an ordinance codifying law enforcement regulations at the Ouray Ice Park. The city acquired land from the U.S. Forest Service that encompasses the Ouray Ice Park earlier this year. Adopting the ordinance gives the Ouray Police Department the authority to
enforce the rules in the Ice Park, which is outside of City limits. As noted by City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli in a memo to council, codifying the rules lends support to Ouray Ice Park staff, the primary points of contact in the Ice Park.
Within the regulations, OIPI specifically asked to extend the time that the park may remain open from April 1 to April 15 to allow for flexibility in years when good climbing conditions extend later into the spring. Another important change entails specific language that prevents climbers from leaving ropes, anchoring material or other items on a climbing route unused or unattended with the intent to reserve that climbing route.
The Ouray Ice Park is a manmade ice climbing venue operated in a spectacular natural gorge just outside Ouray. It is home to more than 200 named ice and mixed climbs, most within a 15-minute walk of the park entrance. The park and its infrastructure are jointly owned and managed by the City of Ouray, the nonprofit Ouray Ice Park, Inc. (OIPI), and a mix of other private and public landowners.
Samantha Wright at swright@watchnewspapers or Tweet @iamsamwright