If you are seeking an escape from your routine life in the form of an exhilarating winter thrill, ice climbing provides such an outlet. Across the world, there are several breathtaking venues from which to ice climb all of which range in difficulty and size. If you are seeking a breathtaking venue in the Western Hemisphere from which to begin an icy trek, ice climbing in Colorado is the ultimate location. The invigorating experience of propelling yourself up a wall of solidified water is one that any experienced thrill-seeker will not soon forget.
The Basics of Ice Climbing
Ice climbing is exactly what it sounds like: scaling a vertical sheet or formation of ice using a combination of ropes, pick axes, crampons and mountaineering boots. For those familiar with traditional rock climbing, the experience of ice climbing in Colorado will provide a slight twist to an already enjoyable sport. There are two main ice features from which to begin your ice climbing experience: alpine ice and water ice.
- Alpine ice is normally where beginners start, as it generally is part of a glacial formation and provides a more gradual slope from which to ascend when compared to water ice.
- Water ice is normally completely vertical and can be found on more difficult treks, extending from cliffs and outcroppings.
Situated at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado is the perfect getaway destination for all things winter-related, including ice climbing. There are upwards of fifteen major ice-climbing ranges located in Colorado, ensuring that no matter the difficulty level or territory, you are sure to find a location that meets your exact specifications. Depending on the course you select, you may or may not need safety gear prior to beginning your adventure. Virtually all ranges that offer beginner level classes and guided climbs will have safety gear for you to use and generally this is included in the overall cost. Many ranges have their own in-house guides, while others allow you to select your own guide to bring to the course.
Picking the Perfect Peak
When the adventure of ice climbing in Colorado becomes a reality for you, it is important that you select the appropriate venue based on location, accessibility, price and experience level. Because of the rapidly-growing interest in ice climbing, particularly in the western United States, there is a highly-developed infrastructure that caters to all interested individuals. Listed below are some of our favorite ice climbing venues:
- Ouray Ice Park – Perhaps the most notable ice climbing venue in Colorado at this point, Ouray Ice Park provides 14 distinct climbing areas with over 200 unique ice and mixed climbs. With over three miles of vertical terrain, OIP offers beginner to expert courses, dozens of fixed anchors and access points from which to secure and begin your climbs and is within walking distance of downtown Ouray. OIP is funded through memberships and the local government and is free and open to the public. OIP does not offer in-house guides, but provides a list and contact information for all permitted guide companies.
- Flatirons – Located in Boulder, Colorado, the Flatirons are an iconic part of both the Boulder skyline and ice climbing, along with rock climbing in the more temperate months. Unlike Ouray Ice Park, the Flatirons are a formation only; there is no developed complex or park housing these climbs. There are five distinct “flatirons”, with the 1,000 feet Third Flatiron being rated as “the best beginner route in the world”. Securing a local guide for this experience is highly recommended as most guide companies will accommodate potential climbers in whatever way possible.
- Silverton – Silverton, Colorado has some of the most advanced expert ice climbing routes in Colorado. During certain times, the routes are closed off due to avalanche threats, so it is best to attempt these times early in the year and only if you are an expert. The Direct North Face offers 1,500 feet of sheer Grade IV challenge, generally taking the entire day to complete.
Guidance on Guides
For every venue for ice climbing in Colorado, there are five guide companies that want to take you there. Knowing which guide is best for you will come down to where you decide to go, whether or not you need your supplied gear, and what level of experience you currently have. It’s always best to seek out a guide close to your chosen venue as this helps keep costs down.
- Alpine World Ascents – AWA provides guiding services all over the world, but are based out of Boulder, Colorado, making them a perfect choice for local venues. They are certified to provide their guiding services at both the Flatirons and OIP and have flexible pricing and group discounts.
- San Juan Mountain Guides – SJMG is one of the most respected and well-known guide companies in Colorado and are based out of Ouray. For the past fifteen years, SJMG has been offering guides for all courses within Ouray at very reasonable prices. Gear is included and the company provides transparent information about each and every one of its certified guides.
- The Bob Culp Climbing School – Since 1969, BCCS has offered multiple climbing experiences, including ice climbing, from its base in Boulder and also in other areas such as Chamonix and the Dolomites. With some of the best prices of any established ice climbing school and a focus on family climbing trips, BCCS has a devoted client base and consistently receives rave reviews from those who choose them.
The Ice Climbing Colorado Experience In Summary
There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of reaching the peak of an ice climbing adventure, gazing out over the wintery wonders of all nature has to offer. From the well-formed courses offered at Ouray to the rugged terrains of Silverton, Colorado offers some of the most premier ice climbing experiences the world has to offer. For all of you who love extreme sports, beautiful scenery and an athletic challenge, the mountains and foothills of Colorado are beckoning for you to visit. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or expert climber, ice climbing in Colorado offers a world-class adventure for those who dare to heed its call.