Rockfall Crushed the Ice Park, Now Ouray Ready to Open

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This March, rockfall ripped through the famed Ouray Ice Park, damaging an oft-used access bridge and cutting off the water supply for some routes. No one was injured, but the ice climbing polestar required some rehab.

Southwest Colorado’s famous ice climbing park is ready for winter after a 12,000-pound rockfall damaged infrastructure there this spring.

The resource will open to climbers in mid-December pending necessary weather conditions. “Ice farmers,” specialists who work to coat the cliffs of the Uncompahgre River Gorge with water to generate the park’s climbable ice, will require cold nights and hard freezes to do their job.

But as long as they get them, the park will open as planned. That’s due in part to a fundraiser organized by Ouray Ice Park Inc., which manages the park under a contract from the city. In 6 weeks, 1,100 donors from all over the world supported the GoFundMe campaign, called Save the Ouray Ice Park, with $101,000.

“It says this place really means a lot to a lot of people,” said Peter O’Neil, Ouray Ice Park Inc.’s executive director. And not only that, but the community’s economy relies heavily on the park.

Downtown Ouray, Colo.; (photo/Shu2260, Shutterstock)

For instance, the park’s opening means the show will go on at the well-attended Ouray Ice Festival, slated for Jan. 20-23, 2022. And the sport’s popularity continues to grow. Last winter, an estimated 22,000 climbers visited the park — 5,000 more than the year prior (despite the pandemic).

‘Save’ the Ice Park? Repair Details and Alternate Perspectives

The crowdsourced money funded repairs for a bridge that aids access to some areas of the park as well as pipes that feed water to several of the area’s key routes. Interestingly, it also helped repair some privately-owned pipes that carry water downstream from a nearby hydroelectric dam.

The piping, or “penstock,” has run through the Ouray Ice Park since before the park proper existed. In fact, leaks in the pipes produced the ice flows that originally caught climbers’ eyes in the 1980s.

The penstock is still there, but it’s no longer considered integral to the climbing. And neither is the bridge the rockfall took out.

Andres Marin, a world-class ice climber and longtime Ouray local, has competed in multiple Ouray Ice Festivals and remains engaged in the community. He told GearJunkie that the company didn’t engage with local climbers before starting the fundraiser — and that when it did, the language and approach it used belied some misunderstanding of the situation. Marin explained:

You don’t have to use the bridge. Instead, you can walk around a trail at the end of the canyon. It takes an extra five minutes. And the penstock is not critical to the climbing. In the end, you could have run a 4″ PVC pipe and accomplished the same thing, in terms of the climbing.

So really, did the fundraiser “save” the park? I think it’s really cool that they got the repairs done, and the park is growing really fast, which means it needs management. But there’s a lot deeper conversation that needs to happen between professionals in this sport, who know the park really well from years of experience, and the corporate team that manages the park.

For now, all systems are a “go” at the Ouray Ice Park.

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