Log In

Reset Password

Ouray Ice Park opens Friday

Warmer temperatures led to a later opening, but the future looks … brisk
A climber works up the Ouray Ice Park wall during the 25th Ouray Ice Festival. (Durango Herald file)

The Ouray Ice Park will open for the season Friday, opening the town’s doors for winter business. The park, which is free to use, features over 150 ice climbing routes made by the park’s “ice farmers,” who spray down the walls of the box canyon starting in early November.

The park’s opening date is a little later than last year because warmer temperatures prevented farmers from building a solid base of ice, said Peter O’Neil, executive director of the nonprofit that operates the park.

O’Neil does not know exactly how many routes will be open, but he said the park is unlikely to be crowded at this time of year.

Despite the post-Christmas opening, the park is starting the season on a high note.

A landmark deal finalized over margaritas last week ensures that a part of the park will be available to ice climbers in perpetuity.

About 7 1/2 acres of the park sat on land owned by Eric Jacobson, who also owns the Ouray Hydroelectric Power Plant. Increasing concerns of Jacobson’s vulnerability to a lawsuit led to an agreement for in which he would donate the land to the city.

Last May, Jacobson and O’Neil met to discuss the matter.

“I said, ‘Eric, I would love a permanent easement across your property,’” O’Neil recalled.

Jacobson agreed, and a few months later, the city requested the same deal for the Via Ferrata it operates across the property.

“Basically, Eric said, ‘I got a better idea. Why don't I just give you all my property that pertains to both the ice Park and the Via Ferrata?’” O’Neil said.

The transfer means that no one will be able to prevent the ice park from operating on the land going forward, enshrining what started 30 years ago as a handshake deal over beers.

Ouray Ice Park Incorporated Executive Director Peter O'Neil. (Courtesy of Peter O'Neil/Ouray Ice Park Incorporated)

“It's protecting the ice park for the next generation of ice climbers,” a thrilled O’Neil said. “ … It's an incredible collaboration between a city, a private landowner and a recreational nonprofit. All three entities work together to say ‘let's do what's in the best interest of the community.’”

The park is Ouray’s primary wintertime economic engine. A recent study found it generated nearly $18 million in spending for the town in a single winter.

The 29th annual Ouray Ice Festival, which will kick off Jan. 18, will feature the usual ice climbing festival. However, the event will be sanctioned through the Union internationale des associations d'alpinisme, better known as the UIAA, for the second time. It will be the only event of the season held in the United States at which competitors can gain points that count toward their international ranking.

The park will also host the third annual All In Ice Festival, which is targeted toward people of historically marginalized backgrounds. The sold-out event, which’ll be held Jan. 5-7, is sure to be a highlight for the park’s season, O’Neil said.

“I think we're sending the message to the climbing community that we are welcoming to everyone,” he said. “If you want to become a good mountaineer and you are a member of an underserved or marginalized community, come to the ice park, learn to ice climb.”

The ice park will open at 8 a.m. Friday. It is free to use, although members of the park are allowed in 30 minutes earlier than the general public. Information on conditions, rules and other information can be found at ourayicepark.com.


Reader Comments