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The 2023 Ouray Ice Festival: So Cool It’s Hot

When the winter weather freezes the flowing waters of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains into majestic ice formations, you know it’s time for the internationally famous Ouray Ice Festival. The town of Ouray will be buzzing with activity for this annual festival, and there are activities for climbers and spectators of all ages and skill levels. Beginning on January 19th and concluding on the 22nd, the 2023 Ice Fest is loaded with excitement and entertainment for all varieties of festival attendees.

The team at Vacation Rental Collective is your go-to for best-in-class vacation rental services in Southwest Colorado. This area is our home, and we want to share the local’s lowdown on this world-renowned ice-climbing event!

Ouray, Colorado

Tucked into the steep walls of the Colorado Rockies, the little town of Ouray has a charm all its own. Affectionately nicknamed the “Switzerland of America,” the area definitely lives up to its moniker. With stunning views, a plethora of outdoor activities, and ample hot springs, Ouray is a traveler’s paradise. Long a destination for its healing mineral waters and mountain beauty, it has also become a prominent ice climbing destination in recent decades, thanks to the hard work of the local community and the establishment of the Ouray Ice Park.

Frozen Origins

The Ouray Ice Park, located just outside the town of Ouray in the Uncompahgre Gorge, is one of the premier ice-climbing parks in the world. Founded officially in 1997 with the formation of Ouray Ice Park Inc., its genesis story goes back to the pioneering ice climbers of the area. This time of year, local and traveling climbers seek out the frozen waterfalls of the rugged San Juan Mountains, searching for their next winter wonderland adventure. Among this dedicated group, Southwest Colorado is full of famous natural routes such as Silverton’s Stairway to Heaven and Telluride’s Bridal Veil Falls, first climbed in 1978 by Jeff Lowe and Mike Weis. The ascent was broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Ice climbing grew in popularity, and people began exploring the Uncompaghre Gorge in the 1980s. At that time, the town was nearly devoid of winter activity. That would start to change when, as legend has it, recently relocated local James Burwick, aka Bobo, saw ice forming from a leak in the penstock pipeline for the Ouray Hydroelectric Plant. An ice formation would be created below the leaks in the penstock, potentially offering an exciting ice climb.

Then in 1991, Gary Wild, the co-owner of the Victorian Inn, struck a deal with the owner of the hydroelectric plant’s easement in the Uncompahgre Gorge, Erik Jacobson. Over a six-pack and some goodwill, Wild and Jacobson came to terms. Wild and Bill Whitt, the other owner of the Victorian Inn, had crafted their vision of the Ouray Ice Park, and things were about to take off. By 1997 their effort had gained enough traction that Ouray Ice Park, Inc. was created to establish the park further. Over 25 years later, this collaborative effort has positively impacted the region and the sport of ice climbing itself.

Today the Ouray Ice Park is an excellent example of what locally-led initiatives can achieve with the support of their municipalities. The community-wide cooperation reaps a yearly harvest of ice, excitement, culture, and revenue. With over 100 ice and mixed (ice and rock) routes equaling over a mile of vertical terrain, the Ouray Ice Park has become one of the premier ice climbing venues in the world and continues its mission of remaining free and open to the public.

The 2023 Ouray Ice Festival

The Ouray Ice Festival raises money for the ice park each year through a three-day and four- night event filled with education, competition, and excitement. The Fest is a major financial contributor to the Ouray Ice Park and an essential part of how the park remains maintained and free to the public. During this time, the sleepy town of Ouray, the Switzerland of America, becomes an international ice-climbing mecca.

The week is full of various clinics, offering first-timers and experts alike a chance to learn the craft from some of the world’s best. Whether you’re looking to improve your technique and fitness or want to learn advanced rescue techniques, there’s a clinic for you.

Gear cards are available and allow festival attendees to demo their desired equipment from participating sponsors. If you like what you demoed, the sponsors will sell their gear in the Vendor Village until 1 pm on Sunday the 22nd. There is also a virtual auction from January 13th to January 23rd, and you can register to bid at this link.

In addition to clinics and gear demos, there will be movie screenings, a walk-up climbing wall for kids, fireside chats with the pros, a Miami Vice-themed pool party, and much more. The festivities will not disappoint, as the climbing community is known for its celebratory spirit, and you can check out the event’s full schedule here.

Perhaps the star of the weekend, the climbing competitions are both thrilling and inspiring. Competitors travel from all over the world, and the competition venue is exciting and intimate. Spectators witness these elite athletes' physical and technical prowess as they battle against gravity and one another. The qualifier and finals for the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition will take place Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Speed Climbing Competition will occur separately on Sunday, so spectators will have ample opportunities to watch the sport’s best swing their ice tools and vie for first place.

The excitement of the Ouray Ice Festival will create memories that will last a lifetime. The majesty of the Rocky Mountain winter and the awe-inspiring talent of the elite climbers that gather from around the globe make for a truly world-class, family-friendly experience.

The Vacation Rental Collective team are experts in facilitating all manner of adventures, and we want to welcome you to the Ouray Ice Festival! Colorado is our backyard, and we offer you best-in-class vacation rental services with a local’s edge.

Contact us today, and we’ll make your Colorado vacation dreams a reality!

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