History and facts of Ouray Ice Park

History and facts of Ouray Ice Park

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Ice Climbing


South Park Gorge from the topSouth Park on a busy weekend day
Gimps on IceGimps on Ice

The Ouray Ice Park is a world famous ice climbing area that has absorbed the axe blows of thousands of climbers, new and old, from around the globe. Many well-known ice climbers and alpinists have spent time in this incredible climbing resource.
From Ouray Ice Park Guide book by Vince Anderson and Cindy Williams.

Ouray Ice Park is a free ice climbing facility with over 200 established ice and mixed climbing routes in a natural setting. The park is located in the stunning Uncompahgre River Gorge, just outside the town of Ouray, Colorado. The Ice Park is not in the Box Canyon. The Box Canyon is another nearby attraction containing a waterfall that is unfrozen even in the winter.

The length of the Uncompahgre Gorge that encompasses the Ice Park is roughly one mile long. Although the Park is located in a cold gorge, surprisingly most of the ice is man-made. A few of the climbs are mostly natural and have existed long before the Ice Park's official inception in 1992. A few others begun as intermittent leaks in the large pipe that delivers water to the hydroelectric plant in Ouray that runs along the rim of the gorge.
The Park now uses a robust and complex irrigation system (aka ice farming) which sprays water over the Gorge in the evenings during freezing temperatures to create a myriad of ice features. As a result, the climbs may form slightly different from season to season. The typical ice climbing season in the Park runs from mid-December through April 1, but can vary depending on weather.

All climbing and parking is free! However, you can choose to support this wonderful place by buying an optional yearly membership. As I mentioned the membership is optional (nobody will ever ask you whether you contributed or not), it costs 40$, and it helps to support the Ice Park. You can also receive some discounts in participating local restaurants and hotels.

I heard that this is the largest ice climbing park in the world.

Without a doubt, this is the most popular area in Colorado for climbers of all abilities. The annual Ouray Ice Festival, held in mid January, is extremely well attended (better say crowded) by climbers and spectators alike. Visitors and climbers can partake in a variety of industry sponsored events, climbing technique clinics, slide shows, buffet dinners, and can view word-class athletes in the climbing competition. It is the largest ice climbing festival on the continent, if not the world. There are family activities as well. The festival provides free training for youngsters via the Kid's College. This annual even introduces children to swinging ice tools and kicking ice, which can become quite an addiction (my case).

Top-roping is very popular in the Ice Park, and because the approaches and descents are so convenient, quite a lot of climbing can be accomplished in a short time. This is a great place to hone technique for both beginners and experts. Most climbs have bolted anchors or further south you have to use trees for anchoring. Bolts are usually marked by by a flagged pole (some bolts do get buried in the snow). Leading is allowed in the park if you choose so, and many people climb solo with a soloist device.

Gimps on Ice is a gathering of amputees, paraplegics and normals to climb in the Ice Park. It usually happens in mid March, and is quite an experience to watch. Paradox sports presents...

There is also a lot of natural wild ice in the vicinity of Ouray, so if you get bored in the park, you can always venture and explore the outdoor :)

Ouray Ice Park Timeline

Approach to South ParkBeautiful entry into South Park
Southpark, WI 3Dow Williams leading

1970s - Ouray is on the map as an ice climbing destination.
1991 - Informal development of the Ouray Ice Park beings when Bill Whitt and Gary Wild string out some half inch PVC pipe and an odd assortment of garden hoses and shower heads. So begins the ice farming era in Ouray.
1992- Eric Jacobsen, owner and operator of Ouray Hydroelectric purchases much of the property in the Uncompahgre Gorge that makes up the current park. Eric Jacobsen is among the rate breed of private property owners sympathetic to climbers. Eric's only caveat was that he had to have adequate liability insurance coverage provided for himself and his company in order to allow climbing on his property. The County of Ouray insured Eric under its insurance umbrella and Eric in turn leased to the county the use of the land for recreational purposes for $ 1.00 a year.
1996 - Jeff Lowe organizes the first Ouray Ice Festival to showcase the sport of ice climbing.
1997 - Ouray Ice Park, Inc. (OIPI) is formed to provide formal organization to what previously had been a loosely organized grassroots effort. OIPI is non-profit organization that includes nine volunteer board members who are considerably skilled at ditch-digging and plumbing systems. The Ouray Ice Park is a shining example of what a volunteer organization can accomplish with little capital but a lot of enthusiasm and vision.
2001- The Ouray Ice Park goes high tech. Thanks to a monumental fundraising effort, OIPI upgrades the Park's infrastructure and taps into overflow from the City of Ouray's water supply tank to significantly increase the ice farming effort. OIPI takes over the Ouray Ice Festival from Jeff Lowe.
2005 - Female competitor Ines Papert wins the Ice Festival's difficulty competition.
2009 - OIPI signs an operating agreement with the City of Ouray, recognizing the City as the lead government agency at the Park. The City continues efforts to puchase U.S. Forest Service property within Ice Park boundaries.
2011 - OIPI hosts the 16th Annual Ouray Ice Festival. Josh Wharton is the first competitor to win the Ouray Ice Festival competition three years in a row.

Park rules and etiquette

Below are the formalized Park rules adopted by the Board of Directors of the Ouray Ice Park. They want you to be safe.
1. Crampons and helmets are required for ALL persons (climbers or otherwise) in the established and posted "Climbers Only" area. You can be surprised by the number of professional photographers here trying to snap good action photos.
2. All persons under the age 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
3. Dogs must be leashed and attended while in the Ouray Ice Park and no dogs are allowed in the bottom of the gorge. (I have seen dogs at the bottom of the gorge, but I never took mine. It does get cold and it is dangerous if the dog gets hit by a piece of ice). You must also pick after your pet.
4. All climbing in the "School Room" area must be on fixed, numbered and defined anchors only.
5. Hours of operation at the Ouray Ice Park are sunup to sundown - no night climbing. + remember, the water is dripping when it gets dark.
6. Do not anchor to any man-made strutters, including the rail of the walkway above the School Room, nor to the pipe line.
7. Do not play with pipes, shower heads etc.

1. Consider supporting the Ice Park by buying a membership.
2. Leave gear on the anchor before you begin a climb, if you are leading a route. it will help prevent someone from rappelling onto you. If you find gear on an anchor, leave it there. Somebody will come back for it.
3. Whenever possible, use the walk-down paths to get to the base of the route you intend to climb. Please avoid rappelling into the gorge unless you have visually inspected the area to ensure no one will be hit with falling ice. Also most of the routes are hard to evaluate from the top, and you may end up rappelling into a difficult mixed route, you may not want to climb.
4. Yell "ROPE" loudly before throwing your rope into the gorge. Better yet get a visual to ensure that no one is below or leading the route. It it difficult to hear people in the gorge from above (there is a phone reception there). It is also advised, when top roping, to have your partner at the bottom to retrieve the rope if it falls in the river. Frozen ropes are hard to handle.
5. Do not take gear off a route. Quick draws may mean that someone is working on a project, some are left for a competition.
6. Be aware of people climbing above you. Ice can fall a long way. I found 70 meter rope a better choice, you can stand further away from the ice wall.
7. The Ice Park gets a lot of climbing traffic, so please be gentle and precise with the ice. Don't purposefully knock off the ice unless it poses a safety hazard.
8. The water is turned on in the Park most weekday evenings in the winter at 4:00 PM. Please be respectful of the Park workers and exit the climbing areas during this time to allow for new ice to be formed.

And some images of the Ice Park

great postureScotties gullies area
PopstarScottish gullies area
Five Fingers areaFive Fingers area
School RoomRappel into School Room
Smile man, smileAye Lady WI4
Entry to Ice ParkView from the upper bridge

Ouray Ice Festival

Ouray Ice Festival is the biggest Ice Festival in North America. It is held each year in January. It attracts elite climbers from all over the world.

Ouray Ice Fest 2013
Ouray Ice Festival
Hugging the log
Another transition onto the log
Detailed mixed climbing

External Links

Ouray Ice Park

Ouray Mountain Sports - very well supplied store and a great resource about local climbs, possible to rent ice tools and crampons, and they do sharpen up your ice screws.

Ouray Ice Park - National Geographic photos

And definitively, do not forget to soak in the springs after a hard day of climbing. You have either a choice of Ouray Hot Springs, or Orvis Hot Springs


Find more about Weather in Ouray, CO
Click for weather forecast


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-9 of 9
Princess Buttercup

Princess Buttercup - Jan 10, 2012 10:15 am - Voted 10/10


First went in Feb 2010 and was completely blown away by this place. REALLY hoping to get back this season! Thanks for posting!

Liba Kopeckova

Liba Kopeckova - Jan 10, 2012 8:10 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice!

thanks for visiting. Yes, truly a special place for ice climbers (although many complain about routes being climbed too much, having steps etc). I usually visit about once a week during the season.

Senad Rizvanovic

Senad Rizvanovic - Jan 11, 2012 11:15 am - Voted 10/10


Well done Liba!


McCannster - Jan 11, 2012 8:52 pm - Voted 10/10

Great account Liba

It's good to make known such a cool and unique place. Can't wait to go again in a couple weeks.


dien2liv - Jan 20, 2012 12:38 am - Hasn't voted

super swick

for anyone who has yet to visit the ice park,you are missing out. the people and the setting are superb. its also a great place to bump into your climbing heros as the the pros climb along side mere mortals. support the ice park, you'd be hard pressed to find another.

Liba Kopeckova

Liba Kopeckova - Jan 21, 2012 9:30 am - Hasn't voted

Re: super swick

Thanks for the comment. Agreed - pretty unusual, and all gratis, so getting the park membership and supporting the park is not asking that much...(+ the membership gives you many discounts in local restaurants and hotels, + some shops).


GigaMike - Jun 17, 2012 2:12 am - Voted 10/10


I used this information for my first trip to the Ouray Ice Park. Thanks!

Liba Kopeckova

Liba Kopeckova - Jun 17, 2012 8:23 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Great!

Thanks. I am happy it was useful.


Huckleberry-Hiker - Mar 5, 2016 9:06 am - Voted 10/10

One other stat

The Ouray Ice Festival is now touted as the largest ice festival in North America.

Viewing: 1-9 of 9



Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.