Ouray Ice Festival 2017: Ice Climbing Instruction at Its Best

It’s hard to believe, but the 2017 Ouray Ice Festival is coming right up. In just two short months, the world’s best ice climbers will descend on one of the world’s best ice climbing destinations for the weekend of January 19-22.

If you’ve been to Ouray before, you know the highlights: on-ice gear demos, the two-day contest, rubbing shoulders with pros from around the world and, of course, 100+ clinics for climbers of all levels taught by the best in the biz.

Ouray Ice Festival

For now, that last bit is the kicker—these are some of the most in-demand ice climbing instruction sessions out there and they fill up fast. Sign-ups kick off Thursday, November 17 at 8am Mountain Standard time. As always, Hyperlite Mountain Gear will be there en force with our ultralight ice climbing packs and a special series of clinics taught by our climbing and mountaineering ambassadors. Here’s a quick overview of what’s happening, when. Take care of your registration and get dreaming about all of that fresh, clean ice that awaits you.

Ouray Ice Fest First Timer Primer

If you’ve never been to Ouray before, the first thing you should know is that no one goes just once. Of course, there are worse things than finding yourself in a spot known as “the Switzerland of America” once or twice (or more times) a year. Located in southwest Colorado, this sleepy little locale really is about as close as you’ll get to a pristine mountain town these days.

About an hour from Telluride, Ouray was once your standard issue foundering-mining-outpost-turned-backcountry-gateway. Winter was virtually dead here until the 1980s, when a crew of crusty climbers recognized an unusual convergence of geography and infrastructure in town.

Welcome Ice Climbers

Literally walking distance from main street, a span of the Uncompahgre River gorge juts for more than a mile to the south. Ridiculously beautiful San Juan mountain setting and scenery aside, what really caught the attention of the rag-tag crew was the leaky old hydroelectric pipeline running along a band of high cliffs. One particularly frigid morning, an 80-foot icicle jutted over the rim of the gorge and down toward the river below. It looked solid and fun so the guys tooled up, and the rest—as they say—is history.

At first, the water pipe mysteriously Swiss-cheesed itself, spouting off new, clandestine routes almost weekly. Over time it’s become a slightly more above-board effort, and now, with the blessing of the hydroelectric plant, the ice farmers of Ouray have cultivated a sophisticated network of over 100 valves and sprinklers. Every winter they sprout the 200+ routes that make up the Ouray Ice Park, just as soon as it gets cold enough.

Ouray is about access. Whereas other ice areas require a substantial effort just to get to the routes, in the Uncompahgre everything is all right there. As in, run-into-town-for-a-quick-cup-of-coffee right there. The park itself is open all for free throughout the season. (It’s a 501c3 nonprofit, consider a membership—they’re affordable and it’s a great way to support the ongoing work.)

For over 20 years now, the Ice Fest has been the best way to experience the park. For three days and three nights, thousands of climbers descend upon Ouray to learn, compete, try out new gear and even, just maybe, enjoy a beverage or two. It’s a family-style gathering for beginners, experts, gear heads and everyone in between. And there really is something for every climber, regardless of how much or how little time you’ve spent on ice.

Friday 9:30-3:00 | Intermediate Ice with Jayson Simons-Jones 

Learn to climb progressively steeper ice with efficiency and confidence. Terrain difficulty will be on routes in the WI 4/5 range.

From the instructor: A full day clinic is the best way for serious climbers to make gains. It’s a lot of time to work on a progression, and with a 6/1 ratio there’s a lot of room for instruction. This clinic will go in depth into reading ice for a better overall approach. Body positioning for steeper ice, with a focus on foot work and efficiency, will be covered, plus where and how to find rest on the ice.

Who it’s for: A climber with some experience climbing up to WI 3/4 looking to pick up some new moves and better technique for confidence on steeper ice. You should be comfortable top roping WI 3/4 and maybe have some experience leading on easier stuff.

Saturday 9:30-11:30 | Intro to Ice Leading with Jayson Simons-Jones 

Learn “best practices” for leading techniques to boost your confidence leading ice routes.

From the instructor: This clinic covers the big picture stuff of where to climb and how, where to protect and when. The variety of ice available at Ouray is the star of this course.

Who it’s for: More advanced climbers looking to up their ice reading skills and learn basic rope work for leading. Proper screw and protection placement will be included.

Saturday 9:00-11:30 | Using Your Hips for Max Balance and Security on Ice with Janette Heung

Expand your awareness of body positioning while climbing ice and learn to orient your hips and lower body to climb progressively more difficult ice.

From the instructor: Looking to hone your technique? Solid footwork, kicking and fluid lower body movement are key. In this clinic you’ll learn ways to climb more effectively and efficiently in order to conserve energy. The proper way to move under your tools, climbing leashless and traversing will be an emphasis.

Who it’s for: Not a complete beginner, but not an expert. Someone with some time under their belt climbing WI 3/4 who’s ready to progress to the next level.

Saturday 12:30-3:00 | Ice Screw Placements & Anchors with Jayson Simons-Jones 

Learn the fundamentals of ice screw placements and ice anchors from a professional athlete and AMGA Certified Guide.

From the instructor: A mostly ground school clinic with an in depth breakdown of the physics of ice climbing, the forces at work in ice screw placement and how they’re different from rock anchors. Full-function but more minimal knot technique for cold environments will be covered, along with the effects of changing ice conditions throughout the sun cycle of a given day.

Who it’s for: Not necessarily for newbies, participants should be familiar with rock anchors and basic ice climbing anchor systems.

Sign Up Now, See you in January

An Ouray experience can be whatever you want it to be. Dirtbag it in your van and huddle with new friends around your Little Buddy heater, or treat yourself to a few nights at one of two hot springs hotels in town. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping you updated with upcoming ice climbing instruction opportunities and other events as they emerge throughout the season.

Ouray Ice Fest clinic sign ups start Thursday, November 17 at 8AM MST—Don’t miss out!