By Chad Peele
January is one of my favorite months, especially as an avid ice climber living in southwest Colorado. The sun is out, the snow is falling and the ice has formed some spectacular, “glassy” climbs.
The Ouray Ice Festival also occurs in January, and it transforms this small town into a climber’s mecca. During the course of the festival, which runs four days, you can watch slideshows, demo free climbing equipment, climb, watch the mixed climbing competitions, participate in instructional clinics, and, of course, laugh and enjoy the evening festivities! Oh, and did I mention the town has natural hot springs for soaking in after a cold day of ice climbing!?
This year, the festival started on January 6. As usual, we kicked off the festivities with “locals’ night,” which started with slideshows presented by yours truly (thats me!) and accomplished local climber Jason Nelson. The slideshows are always a fun time, showcasing different and unique presenters every evening of the festival. Afterwards, First Ascent hosted a lively party at the local Ouray Brewery with live music and free beer.
The next day, the ice park was in full swing with vendors loaning out demo equipment, people socializing and climbing and instructional clinics offered by world-renowned climbers, guides, and athletes. I taught two clinics that day, both titled “intermediate ice techniques” and had a blast! I enjoyed meeting new people and showing them the ice park, which is a very cool scenic place and feels like my winter home. In the evening, the Ouray community center hosted dinner and drinks while we mingled and laughed with old and new friends. First Ascent teammates Zach Crist and Eric Leidecker arrived as well and taught several clinics over the weekend, focusing on backcountry tour planning and map-reading skills.
On Saturday, the festivities started early, and everyone was out climbing, participating in clinics, trying new gear, and waiting for the sun to hit so the climbing competitions could begin. Both came early and didn’t disappoint!
The mixed climbing competition started off with a bang, and several climbers got high on the route only to fall off in desperation to the shouts and cheers of the crowd. This competition was created to be a “mixed climb,” meaning that participants climb on both rock and ice with their ice tools and crampons, which brings out a more gymnastic style of movement. At the end of the day, many skilled climbers from around the world had competed, but only one won first place. Josh Warton, who won last year’s competition, styled the route and topped out besting the only other climber to successfully climb the route with around six minutes to spare.
That evening, slideshows ran, and people enjoyed sociable dinners followed by a late night Zombie-themed dance party. Climbers showed up in full face paint and costumes, and several dancers got quite creative utilizing their ice axes into their Zombie attire!
On Sunday, the last day of the festival, people got their last clinics in, returned their demo gear and many headed home. Although the smart ones stayed to climb and ski knowing that the crowds would thin out!
First Ascent also had a great surprise for all the people who demoed our jackets. When people came to return their clothing, they were informed that they got to keep the product in return for some simple feedback. Seeing their faces and excitement of receiving a new First Ascent jacket definitely capped off the weekend and brought a smile to my face as well!
Thanks to all who participated this year and I look forward to seeing you all again next year!
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