Deep Freeze: Ouray Ice Fest

Nothing says winter wonderland like Ouray, a mining town turned recreation mecca, best known for its sweet combination of ice climbing and hot springs. Here’s an insider’s guide to making the most of your visit this winter. The ice park and January’s Ouray Ice Fest, are, of course, the main attraction here, but they aren’t the only shows in town. You’ll also find plenty of spots to test the skills you honed at the park up in the backcountry, or maybe just relax in hot water at the end of the day.

The Park

Nestled in the Uncompahgre Gorge on the edge of town, the easy-to-access Ouray Ice Park boasts a couple hundred routes of varying difficulty that attract both beginners and pros. With so many high quality climbs (thanks to farmed ice), we can only touch on a few of our favorites. For detailed info, pick up the Ouray Ice Park Guide by Vince Anderson and Cindy Williams. Note: Difficulty ratings reflect mid-winter conditions in a typical year; ice varies greatly across the seasons and the years.

If You’re New

It’s time to top rope at Schoolroom. Conveniently located near the Upper Bridge, this area sports 17 climbs ranging in difficulty from WI2-WI5/M4-M6 is popular for a good reason. This is a series of fun, easy and moderate routes equipped with bolted anchors. Arrive early and be ready to share the area and enjoy a jovial, upbeat atmosphere teeming with climbers. Start with Kindergarten (WI2), a frequently climbed 30-meter route that’s the easiest one on this wall. If you’re feeling good, progress right to test your skills on Report Card (WI3) and Reading (WI4) and Schoolroom Pillar (WI5), a short, steep narrow column that typically gets hacked off later in the season.   

If You’re Seasoned

Lead at the Upper Bridge. With lead-only routes like Grandma’s Glass Pony Shop (WI6), characterized by steep chandeliers and pillars, and extremely challenging overhanging mixed routes on water-polished rock like Bipolar (M9), this area comprises many of the most spectacular, classic and difficult climbs in the park.

If You’re Somewhere in Between

Relatively less visited New Funtier, located between South Park and Schoolroom, offers a great variety of beginner and intermediate climbs including our favorites Miller Genuine Draft (WI4), which scales a 30-meter ice slab and The Cook (WI2), an easy stepped-out climb of a 25-meter prow. Scottish Gullies, situated downstream from Lower Bridge also has a ton of excellent options including By Gully (WI2), a 30-meter route up a prominent gully often used as a teaching area, and Tic Tac (M6), a classic pumpy overhanging mixed climb. Remember, climbing in this amazing spot is free! Keep it this way by becoming a member or donating to Ouray Ice Park , the non-profit that maintains the area.


Though the Park’s accessibility and ease of anchor set-up can’t be beat, if you’re skilled and looking for more solitude or even something different, the cliffs off of Camp Bird Road offer options including The Ribbon (WI4), a classic four-pitch, 200-meter ice route requiring a rappel. The route doesn’t form every year and avalanche danger can be high, so be sure to check conditions before heading out. No one knows the area or the ice like San Juan Mountain Guides so to fine tune your form and/or find the best climbs in the area with them.

Soak and Stay

On the edge of town, family-friendly Ouray Hot Springs Pool consists of several pools of varying temperatures and lap lanes. Nine miles from Ouray, clothing-optional Orvis Hot Springs  serves up big views of Mt. Sneffels as well as lodging, camping and private tub options. The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings  offers underground vaporcave, outdoor swimming pool, private soaking pool. Our favorite place to stay is Box Canyon Lodge , within walking distance from the ice park.

Eat Up

There’s delicious Mexican food and killer margaritas at Buen Tiempo. You’ll get into a  stunning array of handmade truffles and delicious, whimsical creations including chocolates shaped into climbers at Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee ( As the name implies, the small, simple Ourayle House brewery is run by a character who pumps out delicious, hand-crafted beers onsite. Conveniently, Maggie’s Kitchen, located next door serves delectable burgers and sandwiches sure to keep you drinking for longer.  

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