Ouray Ice Festival Swings Into High Gear This Weekend
by Samantha Wright
Jan 10, 2013 | 613 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
OURAY – It’s here! Ouray’s annual celebration of all things icy gets underway today and continues throughout the weekend with nonstop chills and thrills for ice climbers and spectators alike.

There are climbing clinics, gear demos, free zipline rides and walk-up climbing for adults and children, two exciting climbing competitions on Saturday and Sunday, and a full schedule of evening entertainment in downtown Ouray including gear auctions, a fundraising dinner, slide shows and movies, and late-night parties.

First held in 1996 and promoted by ice climbing pioneer Jeff Lowe, the Festival has grown over the past 18 years into the primo gathering of its kind. It’s not just for seasoned climbers, but anyone interested in finding out what the sport is all about.

Throughout the weekend, the Ouray Ice Park will be swarming with climbers from around the world, clanking around in their crampons and harnesses, gathering in small groups and heading out into the chilly depths of the gorge for interactive clinics with well-known guides and instructors.

Photo ops and spectating opportunities abound from the park’s two bridges and multiple viewing platforms. Peek over the railings to catch a glimpse of the climbing action in the gorge below.

Festival headquarters are at the Lower Bridge, just footsteps from the Ice Park entrance. Here, a tent village springs up each year, where the industry’s top gear vendors let climbers check out free state-of-the-art demo gear for a day. Food vendors sell hot drinks, hearty meals and goodies nearby, with a picnic area warmed by patio heaters.

Just a short hike away, near the Ice Park’s Upper Bridge, upwards of ten belay ropes will be set up all weekend long for the Kids Climbing College and Adult Walk-Up Climbing. Both activities are free. Just show up, sign a waiver, put on some gear (it’s all provided), and you’re ready to climb. Be sure to dress yourself and your children warmly.  Climbing (which includes instruction) is offered on a first-come-first-served basis Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Also back by popular demand: The thrill of a free zip-line ride  across the Uncompahgre Gorge for those ages 6 and up, Friday, 12-3 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

The Elite Mixed Climbing Competition, always a highlight of the Ouray Ice Festival, gets underway Saturday, Jan. 12, at 9 a.m., and can be viewed from anywhere near the Ice Park’s Lower Bridge. The competition is shaping up to be one of the most exciting ever, with an extraordinary field of professional climbers traveling from as far away as Germany and Iceland to compete against each other for $9,000 in prize money.

Competitors will be tackling a whimsically difficult route designed once again by local alpinist Vince Anderson. The route, dubbed “Naughty Aphrodite,” includes a new 25-foot tower overhanging the Uncompahgre Gorge. Catch the athletes again on Sunday morning when the Hari Berger Speed Climbing Competition sponsored by Lowa takes place. Competitors will race against the clock side-by-side on a column of ice, with $7,000 in prize money up for grabs.

The entrance to the Ice Park is about a quarter-mile south of Ouray, just up Highway 550, at the turn-off for the Camp Bird Road.

There is a large parking area immediately across from the Ice Park entrance, and additional parking alongside the highway. But this fills up early on Ice Fest weekend, so it’s better to park your car in town and walk up to the park (it just takes a few minutes), or catch a shuttle.

Free shuttles will be running continuously from downtown Ouray up to the Ice Park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting at 8 a.m. Designated pick-up spots include the Ouray Visitors Center at the Hot Springs Pool, Citizens State Bank on Main Street and Sixth Avenue, and Third Street by the Box Canyon Lodge and Victorian Inn.

As evening sets in at the Ice Park, the action shifts back to town, with nightly events including multi-media presentations about climbing and mountaineering, indoor gear expos, a dinner at the Ouray Community Center on Friday night, Saturday’s late-night Petzl and Arc’terx “Lost in Space” party and much more. These events are a great way to mix it up with the ice climbers, who are a quirky, sociable bunch.

The Ouray Ice Park, with its easily accessible “acres of ice,” is the perfect place to give ice climbing a try. The park offers over three vertical miles of terrain in the narrow, shady Uncompahgre Gorge. Climbs range from short, low-angle routes that are perfect for first-time climbers, to sheer, vertical ascents where the most experienced climbers can hone their skills.

It’s all made possible by a sophisticated gravity-fed plumbing system that uses 7,500 feet of pipe, 150 spray nozzles, and over 150,000 gallons of highly pressurized spring water each night to create crystalline draperies and drippy chandeliers of climbable ice that cling to sheer cliff faces.

Check out the center pullout section of this week’s Watch for more information about the festival. For more information on the Ouray Ice Park and the Ouray Ice Festival, please visit: http://ourayicepark.com/.

swright@watchnewspapers.com Twitter: @iamsamwright
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