Ouray Ice Park in Colorado has been the venue for the Ouray Ice Festival and featured in the Airlie Anderson film "One Winter". Being fortunate enough to be visiting a friend living in Colorado I paid a visit to what is apparently the world's first man-made ice park.
Located high in the Rocky Mountains the Ouray area has many lines that form naturally but to create the ice park water is piped over the edge of a steep sided gorge overnight. The result is a huge concentration of routes in a very small area with literally roadside access.
The ice 'farming' creates some spectacular routes, many hanging pillars and routes with consistently overhanging sections. The more sensible lines seem to be characterised by chandeliered ice at the base which rewards good footwork and can almost be dry-tooled. However, the lack of thick ice on these sections makes them hard to protect.
Where the ice is at a shallower angle it is very hard and inspires confidence in screw placements. In some sections the rapid formation of ice also leads to some quite serious layering; I cleaved off a chunk the size of a car tyre on one route which I fortunately managed to direct away from me and my belayer.
The majority of routes have bolts or trees for top anchors. This means that top-roping (or bottom-roping) is by far the most prevalent activity in the park and makes it an ideal location for beginners. Whilst this would normally lead to the rapid destruction of routes on natural ice, this isn't a problem in Ouray as the ice is replaced every night or so. The anchors also mean care is required if you are leading routes; aside from the lead-only area top-anchors must be marked first, otherwise you may find someone coming in the opposite direction on your route.
Although the park is novice-friendly there are also dozens of harder routes; plenty of WI5s on hanging pillars and some fierce mixed routes at M7 and above.
Not all the areas of the park have a walk out so carrying prussic loops is advisable before abseiling down what looked like a gentle WI3 from above but actually leaves you swinging under an overhang.
The park does feel a bit contrived but no more so than a busy day at Rjukan. This is about as far from adventure climbing as you can get but once skills have been honed and lungs adjusted to the altitude there's hundreds of natural and terrifying lines to choose from in the excellent guidebook "Colorado Ice". The guidebook which includes the entire ice park is also available from the well-stocked Ouray Mountain Sports (as are Turbo Express ice screws for about £30).
The park is free to access but membership gets you a discount in many of the local shops and restaurants. There is also a set of common-sense rules to follow, available from local shops or the park's web page. To find out more visit the website of the Ouray Ice Park
Dave Wigley spends time in the mountains on both rock and ice, on sea cliffs and inland crags. He has mastered E1 on grit. He lives in Wimbledon. You can view Dave's gallery here..