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All In Ice Fest returns

The Ouray festival is carving out space in ice climbing for historically marginalized climbers
Kayavawatu Miles, 8, a Southern Ute Indian Tribe member, takes a swing at the ice at the All In Ice Fest on Jan. 6 at the Ouray Ice Park. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

OURAY – Chip. Thwack. Crack.

It’s the sound of ice tools’ hardened steel picks sinking into the ice cascading over the walls of the Ouray Ice Park. Exclamations of support and enthusiasm percolate through the canyon to the short pitch of ice near the park entrance known as the Kids’ Wall.

“When I come into these mountains, I feel at home,” said Precious Collins.

Collins is Ute Mountain Ute and was raised in Towaoc. Before colonization, the land upon which Ouray sits belonged to the Ute people.

As she helps young student secure crampons to their boot, Collins is wearing only a T-shirt, although the weather is nearing single-digits. But Collins says she isn’t cold – “I’m Ute,” she jokes. Her companions chuckle.

Precious Collins helps adjust crampons at the All In Ice Fest at the Ouray Ice Park on Jan. 6. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

“I really do feel at home, and it is partly because this is where my people were from – all the way up in these mountains,” she said.

On Jan. 6, she was climbing at the ice park with a handful of students from the Ignacio Out and Equal Alliance, an organization that creates inclusive spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The group is at the third annual All In Ice Fest, an event intended to elevate ice climbers of marginalized communities, including Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQIA2S+ communities and adaptive climbers. The festival ran Jan. 5-7.

The festival grew significantly this year. Organizers welcomed 275 climbers to the park, up from 160 in 2023. They take it as sign that the communities they target are hungry for the opportunities the festival provides.

“Being able to do this with my fellow natives is just something that I needed in order to actually enjoy doing this sport,” said Valentina Clitso, who is a member of the Navajo Nation.

Nikki Smith, a professional climber and photographer, demonstrates ice climbing technique at a clinic with indigenous and queer climbers. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

The festival is an impressive affair. The town is abuzz as participants explain to local businesses their reason for being there. Climbers are decked out in gear from top-tier brands sponsoring the festival, including Arc’teryx, Grivel and Rab.

Peter O’Neil, the executive director of the nonprofit that runs the ice park, is an enthusiastic supporter of the festival, and one of the guides accompanying Collins’ group was professional athlete Nikki Smith.

The festival is a space for all people who have been systemically oppressed, Collins said. It offers opportunities for people not just to start ice climbing, but to build their skills and develop professionally. After just three years, the festival is building a following.

Shea Freedom, a Black transgender climber, was working as a shadow guide. He is studying for his Single Pitch Instructor certification.

“This year, my focus is being able to be a service because the first year, I basically got put up,” he said.

Elan Shanks, 9, came to the festival with the Ignacio Out and Equal Alliance, led with the help of Precious Collins. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

Freedom met the festival’s founder, Elizabeth Sahagún, when she responded to a query Freedom had put on social media looking for help paying for a course covering technical rigging for photography. Sahagún had some leftover grant funding from a project and paid for the course.

Not long after, Freedom was learning to ice climb and came to All In.

This year, the organizers took steps to make the festival even more inclusive to indigenous climbers, especially those from the Ute tribes.

As land acknowledgments – the practice of noting the indigenous people from whom land was stolen – become increasingly rote, indigenous climbers say All In stands out.

“This festival actually brings the indigenous to the sport,” said Casilia Aguirre. “You're not just spraying off a name to check a box, you're actually taking action. And that's the difference – taking action.”

Meaningful, relationship-building land acknowledgments are “extremely important,” Southern Ute Cultural Preservation Director Crystal Rizzo said. The festival takes it a step further by offering a clinic taught by indigenous guides.

Climbers at the third annual All In Ice Fest at the Ouray Ice Park on Saturday, Jan. 6. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

Last year’s festival featured a presentation from Cassandra Atencio, the Southern Ute tribal historic preservation officer. This year, organizers reach out again.

Three indigenous youths made a film last year, “Culture Within the Ice,” about reconnecting with stolen land through ice climbing, which the festival screened Friday night.

“It’s super important that our youth have this opportunity, and we definitely want to give a shoutout to All In because they have created a space where we feel welcome,” Collins said after the screening, to much applause.

The next day, the festival ran a clinic for indigenous youths.

“I think it's important we have an indigenous guide, also, I think that makes a huge difference for them to be able to have someone with our values,” Rizzo said.

Climbers at the third annual All In Ice Fest at the Ouray Ice Park on Saturday, Jan. 6. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

Climbing is a challenge and an exercise in healthy risk taking, Collins said. The festival also opens the door to ice climbing – a door that can often be frozen shut by financial or experience barriers.

“It’s not just about Ignacio Out and Equal or Southern Ute Tribe or Ute Mountain,” she said. “It's also about getting the word out to other communities to come up here and enjoy this – together.”


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