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Ouray Ice Festival

Every year, during the first weekend of January, hundreds of ice climbers, dozens of gear companies, top ice climbing

Fest goers at the booths. Ouray Ice Festival 2011. Photo copyright Genevieve Hathaway.

athletes and guides flood to the tiny mining town of Ouray to spend the weekend celebrating the sport they love. The Ouray Ice Park is a unique place in the world, with pipes running along the mile long Uncompahgre Gorge, spraying water down the walls of the gorge to form climbs that range from WI-2 to WI-5 and a wide variety of mixed climbs. The Ouray Ice Festival was first held in 1996, and is considered one of the premier ice festivals in the world.

This year, unusually warm weather threatened to keep most of the park shut down until days before the Festival. But when temperatures dropped days before the Festival was to start, the ice park closed for two days, and the dedicated volunteer staff put their noses to the grindstone and made a lot of ice. Thanks to their hard work and Mother Nature cooperating at the last minute, the park was able to open at full capacity just in the nick of time. Erin Eddie, director of the park and festival, told The Montrose Daily Press days before the Ice Festival started, “We shut down 75 percent of the park for the last two weeks, but we should have close to everything open this Friday.”

Evening Events

The 16th Annual Festival kicked off Thursday night with slide shows by Chad Peele and Jason Nelson. Peele wowed the audience with images from his adventures, including spectacular ice climbing in Norway. Nelson kept audience members on the edge of their seats with first ascents in Alaska and gave a glimpse into what life is like in Ouray. On Friday evening, Zoe Hart kept her slideshow light and fun covering the topic of being an Alpine Princess and how hard her beau Max works at being an Alpine Prince. Emily Harrington transported audience members to the other side of the world and onto incredible sport routes in Turkey. Sam Elias brought us back to Colorado and a local crag near Ridgeway that sports hard routes and rock unlike anywhere else in world. Saturday, Jeff Lowe surprised all in attendance by crashing Conrad Anker’s film, The Wildest Dream. Needless to say, no one minded: in fact the crowd gave Lowe a standing ovation. A short trailer of the legend’s new documentary, Metanoia, was run. It was followed by Anker’s The Wildest Dream, which detailed his journey from finding Mallory’s body to ascending Everest in his footsteps. Barry Blanchard wrapped up the festival on a great note with a presentation that followed a lifetime of climbing in Pakistan, Nepal and the Canadian Rockies (to name just a few places) to his time working on rigging crews and as a stunt double in climbing-related movies.

In the evenings, First Ascent, Petzl and Arc’teryx threw fun “After Parties”, post slideshows, and movies. Ice climbers gathered swapped stories, toasted great days, and celebrated Elvis’ birthday with a big Zombie Party.

A Big Shout Out

A big shout out to Mountain Gear and New Belgium who teamed up to provide the slideshow and movie attendees with

Margo Talbot and the awesome Mountain Gear crew keeping the slideshow attendees thirst quenched with New Belgium beer. Photo copyright Genevieve Hathaway.

free beer during the shows. The Mountain Gear team poured beer and kept us laughing and in good cheer before the shows began.

Premier Ice Climbers Wow Spectators at Ice Festival Comp

The always thrilling Mixed Climbing Comp ran all day on Saturday. This is a great time to see some of the premier ice and mixed athletes show off their skills on a challenging route. This year’s line was a spicy M9 just to the right of the upper bridge. All the female athletes who competed, Dawn Glanc, Zoe Hart, Jen Olson, and Emily Harringtion did well. Dawn Glanc took first among the women, running out of time only a few bolts shy of the top. Only two competitors finished the route, Josh Wharton and Will Mayo. Josh Wharton took first among the men, finishing the route with a little less than 7 minutes left on the clock (Competitors have 20 minutes to complete the route or get as far as they can). Will Mayo came in second, finishing the route with a heart-stopping 17 seconds left on the clock.

Dawn Glanc clipping a draw near the end of the comp route. Photo copyright Ellen Lapham.

Both winners, Glanc and Wharton, had just recovered from serious injuries, coming back to win the comp this year. Wharton earlier last summer was soloing a climb in Rifle when he fell 20 feet and hit the ground breaking both arms and his back. Less than a year later he wins his 3rd Ouray Ice Comp in a row, and with plenty of time to spare. Dawn Glanc, who injured her back earlier this year, has been a top competitor over the last few years in the women’s division of the Comp. She placed 2nd in 2007, 1st in 2009, 3rd in 2010, and now 1st again in 2011.

Fun Activities at the Festival

The Ice Festival also holds fun events for climbers to participate in. Most meaningful to ice climbers who participate are the climbing clinics instructed by some of the best ice climbers in the world. Dozens of ice climbers received top notch instruction in everything from beginning ice technique to ice anchors, to efficient multi-pitch climbing to leading ice. There was a slackline set up high over the park canyon. Mic’d Demos were held with top-notch ice climbers, who climbed steep ice discussing what they were doing and how they were doing it. A treadwall speed-climbing challenge dished out cash prizes to the fastest climbers. Festival goers were treated to the opportunity to meet Steve House and Majka Burkhardt and have their latest books, Houses’ Beyond the Mountain and Burkhardt’s Vertical Ethiopia, signed. And, in one very unique contest, anyone and everyone stepped up to throw down in the Ice Axe Throwing Contest hosted by The North Face.

Always a Special Moment

One of the special and memorable moments of the ice fest was the Stump Award. The Stump Award is a shirt, handed out to, as the award itself puts it, “some of the most famous ice climbers and gimps in the world.” Not only to famous climbers, but also local climbers who aren’t letting their “disability” stop them from being active and living life. Many of the more famous recipients of this shirt have been Jeff Lowe, Warren MacDonald, and Vijay Viswanathan. This shirt not only honors those who do not let life’s physical challenges and “disabilities” slow them down, but also helps raise money for ice park improvements and projects.

This year the award went to Pete Davis. He was born without one arm, but that never stopped him from taking life by the reigns. He leads sport routes and currently works at the Ouray Ice Park.

Who will receive next year’s Stump Award? It’s guaranteed to be someone with an incredible life story and who will inspire all in the room.

Tips and Tricks from Our First Fest

– Book your hotel room early: with hundreds of people attending the festival, lodging fills up quickly.

– Attend events: they are fun and a great way to meet fellow ice climbers.

– Sign up for a clinic or two. Some of the best ice climbers in the world come to Ouray and teach clinics. Whether you are someone who has never been on ice or are looking to improve your technique, the instructors are all to notch.

– Demo gear! Reps from gear companies don’t haul it all the way down to Ouray for their health and the joy of having to set it up and take it down every day. They brought their latest, coolest toys down to share with Fest goers. So stop by the booths and check out some gear! Gear rental is free, just be sure to get to the booths bright and early in the morning since the gear goes fast.

– Thank the Reps, they work hard while Fest attendees to get play.

– Watch the Comp! Whether you’ve just started climbing or have been climbing for a long time, the Comp is always a fun event to attend. The park becomes electric as the audience cheers, hoots and hollers as some of the world’s best dance their way up rock and ice with tools and crampons.

– Donate to the Park. It helps keep the Ice Park free, open and improving every year.

– Most importantly, thank the Ice Park and Festival staff and volunteers who make this all possible and keep the park open. They work harder than you can imagine.

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