Ouray Ice Park is a true gift to the world of ice climbing. Each winter, this slot canyon south of Ouray becomes a vertical, frozen playground. Gravity-fed water spigots along the rim of the canyon spray surplus water from the City of Ouray water supply during the night to create hundreds of diverse routes within a 1-mile stretch of Uncompahgre Gorge. The park is within walking distance from Ouray's downtown strip, and it is open every day during the December to March season. And it is totally free.
The convenience of this park cannot be matched by any ice climbing area anywhere else. All routes are accessed from the top and are easily protected with tree or bolt anchors. Many routes also have ample room below for base-managed climbing after rappelling in. Because of the easy access and large number of low-angle routes, this is the perfect place to learn how to ice climb. There are hard routes, too, and lead climbing is allowed throughout the park for those who wish to take it to the next level. Climbers must provide their own gear for climbing and setting up anchors, but several outfitters offer clinics for those without proper gear or experience.
To take a break and warm the fingers, simply drive or walk down the hill into Ouray and enjoy one of the many coffee shops, diners, and bars lining the main street. This tiny town has only 1,000 permanent residents, but it is a hub for tourism that attracts hikers, mountain bikers, and off-road vehicle drivers during the warmer months. While in Ouray, take the time to explore the history of this old mining town, and don't miss out on one of the local hot springs to revive after a cold day on the ice.
To step up the difficulty and commitment level, natural ice routes are just a short trip away. Camp Bird Road leads right from the ice park to access higher elevations in the valley, along with an abundance of ice. Routes here are multi-pitch, must be set up on lead, and are subject to alpine conditions. Classic climbs such as Bird Brain Boulevard (WI5 M6), The Ribbon (WI4), and Skylight (WI4 M4-5) attract intrepid graduates of Ouray's tamer training grounds.
Ouray is the best place to learn ice climbing or to get tons of laps and polish your skills. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, for ice climbing in the San Juans. Start out in the safety and convenience of Ouray, then set out to discover the wealth of wild ice in southwestern Colorado.