Ouray: America’s Ice Capital

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Whether you’re looking for your next M10 or don’t know a pick from an adze, there’s something for you in the tiny old town of Ouray.

Tucked away in the heart of the rugged San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, Ouray boasts some of the highest concentrations of ice and mixed climbing in the country. The town runs one of the world’s only artificial ice parks located at the base of the deep, cold, and shady Uncompahgre Gorge. Owned and operated by the nonprofit Ouray Ice Park, Inc., and built entirely by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, the park pumps more than 150,000 gallons of water every night during ice season (mid-December to mid-March) to cultivate and maintain its signature blue ice. With free access and more than 200 ice and mixed routes, it’s easy to see why Jim Donini (former president of the American Alpine Club) described the Ouray Ice Park as “the best venue in the world to develop ice climbing skills.” Top that with world-class ice and mixed multi-pitch climbs just a hop, skip, and a jump up Camp Bird Road a kickass ice fest, and pro-level ice and mixed climbing comps, and you’ve got a winter climbing spot that can’t be beat.

Toproping routes like Popsicle (WI4-5) or Seamstress (WI8) make Ouray Ice Park an amazing place to develop your confidence. | Photo submitted by MP user phil broscovak

The 10 Best 4-Star Routes

As ranked by Mountain Project users

The Ribbon (WI4)
Camp Bird Road
“One glance and you won’t be able to get her out of your mind. You may court some of her friends across the valley, but deep down inside you’ll feel guilty because she’s the one you want.”

Pick o’ the Vic (WI4)
Ouray Ice Park
“It’s named after the Ouray Victorian Inn, and this route is allegedly the first artificial climb in the Park, which automatically makes it a must-do classic.”

Pic o' the Vic (WI4) | Photo submitted by MP user John Gassel

Skylight (WI4+ M4/5)
Camp Bird Road
“A very nice, moderate three-pitch route, though the first pitch changes drastically from year to year.”

Jesus Christ Built My Finger Crack (WI4 M6/7)
Ouray Ice Park
“A pleasure and a pump! Delicate rock and thin ice moves keep your attention. A key right hand jam in overhanging rock connects two very positive left hooks. Moderate ice above. Great fun.”

La Ventana (WI5) | Photo submitted by MP user Jay Eggleston

La Ventana (WI5)
Ouray Ice Park
“Awesome vertical ice! Pillars with strong, cauliflower formations to hook. A short section at the bottom before a long, sustained section up top.”

Gravity’s Rainbow (WI5 M3+)
U.S. Highway 550
“Super-fat and super-fun, Colorado Ice describes this as one of the top five ice climbs in the Ouray area.”

Tackling an upper section of Bird Brain Boulevard (WI5, M5) | Photo submitted by MP user Kacper Tekieli

Bird Brain Boulevard (WI5 M6)
Camp Bird Road
“The route has gotten cleaned up. No more tat or any signs of anchors. Keep that in mind when getting on it. It has definitely been restored to a first ascent–type route now. More committing as I see it. And super-classic!”

The Talisman (WI6 M6)
Camp Bird Road
“No bolts, all balls. One of the finer pure trad mixed lines. An absolute San Juan multi-pitch classic! Just as good if not better than Ames Ice Hose.”

Seamstress (M8)
Ouray Ice Park

“Beautiful, direct overhanging line up the Dizzy Buttress. Small, reachy holds that are mostly positive.”

Live Like a Local

Photo submitted by MP user Jay Eggleston

[Food] Don’t be fooled by the rough, miner persona; Ouray is a town of outdoor enthusiasts who like great food just as much as they like crushing steep ice. For a slightly upscale family dining experience with an Italian flair, visit the Bon Ton. Located downstairs in the St. Elmo Hotel, a quaint, turn-of-the-century Victorian inn in the heart of Ouray, the Bon Ton offers daily specials that range from bottomless pasta bowls on Thursdays (fill up an extra plate and take it back with you for the next day’s lunch) to pizza night. If you’re in the mood for Mexican, check out Buen Tiempo. Try the blue corn spinach enchiladas or carne adovada, and pair it with one of 10 margaritas options. For grab-and-go breakfast, hit Artisan Bakery for coffee, baked goods, sandwiches, and chocolate croissants.

[Beer] Hit Ourayle House Brewery, aka The Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company. Located right on Main Street, it offers seasonal craft beers and a warm place to put your feet up. Hutch (the owner) encourages people to bring their own food and relax. Another good option is the Ouray Brewery, which serves up delicious local brews and some say the best burger-fries combo in town. Whatever you do, don’t leave without getting a drink at The Silver Eagle Saloon. This blast from the past has been smokin’ since 1976 (seriously, there is still smoking allowed inside), and it’s rumored that they’ll kick you out if you don’t pronounce Ouray right (correct pronunciation: ur-ray, as in, “I’m Ray; yer Ray.”). It’s a gem.

[Gear] Forgot something? Ouray Mountain Sports is the place to go. Owned and operated by the former president of the Ouray Ice Park, Bill Leo, this is your destination for all things alpine. Whether you need to gear up, get screws sharpened, or just talk to locals about current route conditions, this place is a must-visit before any endeavor.

[Stay] Winter in Ouray? Yeah, you need four walls and some heat. Try The Ouray Riverside Inn & Cabins. You get inexpensive (as low as $48/night) riverside cabins with just the essentials and no frills (i.e., just heat and electricity), though there are more decked-out options as well, still less than $100. With a fatter wallet, a more luxurious alternative is The Ouray Chalet Inn, which has rooms that fit up to four people and offers a 20 percent discount to current Ice Park members.

[Rest Day] After a long day of scaring yourself and fighting frostbite, what better way to wind down than soaking in a warm, crystal-clear hot spring? With two public hot springs located right in town, no trip to Ouray is complete without it. Forgot your suit? No worries, you can rent one! (Yikes.)

EPICENTER is a destination guide series highlighting America’s best climbing areas, produced in collaboration with Climbing magazine.

 

 

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