The Ouray Ice Park will host two new events this winter, expanding the footprint of what has quickly become one of the country’s premier ice climbing venues.
For the first time in its history, the Ouray Ice Park will host the All In Ice Fest, a three-day festival to grow the Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQIA2S+, and adaptive ice climbing communities.
“Traditionally, ice climbing is very much a privilege sport,” said Ouray Ice Park Executive Director Peter O’Neil.
“Now, there’s huge representation of women in the ice climbing world and community in the park, but there are very few Latina women or Black climbers. And we want them to come together as a community at the park,” he said.
The event will run from Jan. 7-9 led by program director Elizabeth Sahagún, a Mexican-American neuroscientist and alpinist. The festival will feature clinics, an apprentice alpine guiding program and other events at the Wright Opera House in Ouray.
O’Neil said the park also expects Phil Henderson, leader of the Full Circle Everest Expedition, the first all-Black expedition to attempt to summit Mount Everest in 2022, will speak and run some clinics at All In Ice Fest.
“What’s important is to send the message that the Ouray Ice Park is open and welcoming to all,” O’Neil said.
In a second first, the park will host the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation’s (UIAA) 2022 North American Ice Climbing Championships.
Elite athletes from around the world will travel to Southwest Colorado for the Feb. 4-5 event, building off of last year’s Ouray Ice Fest, which saw more than 300,000 people livestream the mixed-climbing competition.
“Last year, we wanted to show the UIAA, the governing body for ice climbing, that Ouray and the Ouray Ice Park had the ability to do a world-class type event,” O’Neil said. “They saw what we did and they went, ‘Wow, would you guys like to host a true UIAA-certified event next year?’”
A third event, the annual Ouray Ice Festival & Competition, will take place from Jan. 20-23. O’Neil said the three-day, four-night festival, which has clinics, climbing gear demos, competitions, music and more, usually draws between 3,000 and 4,000 people.
Durango’s own Marcus Garcia, an elite climber, coach and owner of the Rock Lounge climbing gym, will set the route for the competition.
This year’s full slate comes after 12,000 pounds of rocks destroyed the Trestle Bridge and water infrastructure that fed the south end of the park in March.
With the winter climbing season in jeopardy, the nonprofit ice park started a GoFundMe campaign that received an outpouring of community support. The campaign surpassed its $100,000 goal within six weeks, allowing the park to rebound ahead of the upcoming season.
A donation from Black Diamond also helped with the building of new trails that will allow climbers to access the entirety of the park without a bridge.
O’Neil said the Ouray Ice Park hopes to open the weekend before Christmas on Dec. 17 or 18, though an opening date is weather-dependent.
“We’re still waiting for cold temperatures,” O’Neil said.
The park expects another blossoming year with more visitors flocking to the flowing ice. Before the pandemic, about 17,000 people visited the park annually. Last year 22,000 people climbed the park, he said.
“Outdoor recreation in Colorado (and) the West has just skyrocketed,” he said. “Through COVID-19, people discovered that you can actually have a pretty cool time in your own backyard as opposed to having to go to Europe.”
As the park continues to grow, it reinforces its standing as one of the best ice climbing spots anywhere.
“Ouray is the gravitational epicenter of ice climbing in North America,” O’Neil said.
“It’s a mile and a half of river gorge that has 150 routes that you can get to in 15 or 20 minutes from town,” he said. “There's no other place like that in the world.”