Trying Ice Climbing: What You Should Know

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Ice climbing is an interesting and exciting sport you can try in Ouray, CO! Read on to learn more about what it is and how to get started.

What is Ice Climbing?

First things first: what even is ice climbing? To put it simply, it is the act of climbing ice formations. Typically, to be classified as “ice climbing” the formation needs to be vertical. So, a frozen waterfall, a mountain crag, or anything that can support a person’s weight is up for grabs. It is very much like rock climbing, but the main difference is you don’t look for hand and foot holds in existing rock. Rather, you’re creating or finding them using metal spikes like ice tools and crampons.

The special thing about this activity is that it’s really only available for a few months of the year. Typically, the climbing season is from early to mid-December when ice starts to form and, assuming there aren’t long periods of warm weather, will last until the end of March.

Who Can Ice Climb?

Technically, anybody willing and wanting to participate can try an ice climb! There are only a few things to be aware of, though.

You don’t need to have previous ice or rock climbing experience, but this is quite a physical sport. Pros may make it look easy, but don’t be fooled. A reasonable level of fitness is an advantage but not a requirement. Also, while there is no age limit, it can be difficult to find crampons for smaller foot sizes (like for children), so bear this in mind if you’re planning a family trip and want to partake in this activity.

How Safe Is It?

Looking up at the ice formations and watching someone pick their way up…it can seem a little scary. So, how safe is this sport?

Like any mountain sport, there are risks associated with climbing. But, as we said, it’s pretty similar to rock climbing. And in rock climbing, there are similar risks: you could fall and hit something, or something could fall on you. However, placing good gear and using ropes helps to mitigate this, as well as using protection like helmets.

Ouray Ice Park

If you’re interested in taking an ice climb, you should consider planning a stay and visiting the Ouray Ice Park!

Since 1994, the Ouray Ice Park has been the largest man-made public ice climbing park in the world. With over 200 ice and mixed routes spanning almost two miles of the Uncompahgre Gorge, this is an ice-climbing playground. This is a free and public park and is available for climbers of all skill levels.

If you’re not going to be taking a climb, consider visiting anyway, especially during the Ouray Ice Festival. This annual festival spans three days and four nights every January (Jan 18th-21st for 2024!) and transforms the neighboring town of Ouray into an ice climbing mecca with people coming to celebrate the sport of ice climbing and help raise funding for their operations. There’s lots to do, explore, and watch, and it’s a great way to support the Ice Park and those who love this sport.

How to Get Started

Now that you’ve learned a little about this sport and even know a cool spot where you can go and climb, here’s what you need to do to get started as an ice climber.

Become Familiar with Rock Climbing Skills

As we mentioned, ice climbing is similar to rock climbing. But even if you haven’t been on rock doesn’t mean you can’t try ice. That being said, there are some useful skills you can gain from rock climbing that will help you out. These include rope skills, footwork skills, and knowledge of knots. If you want to make your first ice climb a little easier, heading to a rock climbing gym and taking a class or two can help.

Take a Class

Of course, there’s no shame in going head-first right into a class! These people have years of experience, so you can feel comfortable learning how to climb ice safely, even if you have no experience climbing in any capacity. They’ll also help you save money at first since they’ll provide the gear you need. If you’re headed to the Ouray Ice Park, there are plenty of guides to choose from. We recommend the San Juan Mountain Guides, but do some research and figure out who you want to learn from.

Don’t Forget to Stay Warm

This is a winter sport, so staying warm is crucial. It’s a great way to get outside and enjoy the beautiful winter season, but if you aren’t properly dressed, you’re going to be miserable! The key is to have several layers you can easily take off and put back on as your temperature fluctuates throughout the day.

Ready to Plan an Ice Climbing Trip?

If you’re dreaming of visiting the Ouray Ice Park and getting to climbing, then it sounds like it’s time to plan your trip! If you’re looking for a hotel to stay at in the area, we invite you to stay at the MTN Lodge Ridgway. We’re located in Ridgway, CO, (only 15 minutes from the ice park!) and are the perfect base camp for all your winter adventures. We have comfortable rooms, a delicious restaurant on site, and incredible mountain views. Let’s make your stay a memorable one!


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