Red Cliff, Colorado — a small, quirky mountain town (population: 261) tucked between Vail and Leadville — is seriously considering a project that would create an outdoor ice-climbing park on the cliffs lining the edge of town. Plans are still in the preliminary stages, but so far, the ice park would be a winter-only area fed with water from nearby Eagle River. Red Cliff’s park would make it the second largest in the country behind Ouray and the third ice-climbing park in Colorado (Lake City, an hour south of Gunnison, also has a park).
If approved, the ice park would open the winter of 2015-2016 with a three-to-four month climbing season. Climbers would pay a fee or membership to use the facilities, and the area would be a short walk from the center of town. Early estimates indicate that the 150-foot tall rocks could be home to up to 40 routes.
Climbers can stay in-town at the rustic-but-modern Green Bridge Inn, or find lodging in Minturn or Vail, a 20-minute drive away. Post-climbing, you can grab a beer and fish tacos at Mango’s Mountain Grill, the town’s sole — but locally famous — eating establishment. Nearby Vail is home to some well-known natural ice climbing as well, but access requires considerable hiking and scrambling and the area is known for its more technical, advanced routes.
With roots as a historical mining town, Red Cliff already attracts a steady stream of winter outdoor enthusiasts, including backcountry skiers and snowmobilers. Mayor Scott Burgess said it just makes sense to add ice climbing to the mix, and he’s optimistic that the park will be a social and economic boon for the town, bringing some of the benefits that ice-climbing destinations like Ouray have experienced.
“We have a solid concept,” Burgess said. “The cliffs along town are perfect for an ice park. Plus, ice climbers are very respectful of their environment and they are the kind of people we want in town.”
Not that Red Cliff is looking to become Ouray — Ouray’s park is up year-round, with a set-up that Burgess says “is a bit unsightly” when the pipes and sprinklers are exposed.
“We want to be green about it and keep it tucked away in the summertime,” Burgess said.