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Winter awakening: Ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado

Words: Megan Michelson
Photography: Jeremiah Moon Watt/ Getty Images

This ice climbing park in Colorado offers training classes for spontaneous beginners

It’s no wonder Ouray has been called the Switzerland of America. This high-elevation old mining town—population 1,000—is nestled into the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, surrounded by vertical 13,000-foot snowcapped peaks.

With Victorian-style homes and a historically preserved Main Street, visitors come to Ouray for the sulfur-free hot springs, off-road jeep tours and the Ouray Ice Park, a man-made ice-climbing epicenter in the town’s striking and ice- coated Uncompahgre Gorge.

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“Ouray is a beautiful quintessential mountain town full of great quality ice and rock to climb,” says Sasha DiGiulian, one of the world’s top female rock climbers, who learned to ice climb in Ouray a couple of years ago. “The ice park is a great place to learn to ice climb because everything is relatively safe, controlled and accessible. For me, it was the perfect stepping stone to get more into ice climbing and learn how to become a better climber.”

Hundreds of ice climbers show up each January for clinics and competitions at the annual Ouray Ice Festival. To join the ranks and learn how to ice climb, sign up for a two-day introductory course with San Juan Mountain Guides, where you’ll start on low-angle routes and work your way up.

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Enjoy a pint of San Juan IPA at the Ouray Brewery, a locals’ favorite watering hole. It’s not exactly open late—last call is at 9 p.m. Or grab a pint made on site at the Ourayle House, dubbed Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing after the owner’s staunch but affable vibe.

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After a day of scaling ice walls, dine on elk Bolognese, fried Brussels sprouts with candied macadamia nuts and cast iron cookies at Brickhouse 737, a Main Street farm-to-table eatery that opened last summer. Ouray’s Outlaw Restaurant, one of the oldest spots in town (and where John Wayne drank while filming True Grit), is known for its charbroiled steaks, hearty pastas, rustic atmosphere and honky tonk piano player.

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The 130-year-old Beaumont Hotel (from $199) is Ouray’s nicest crash pad, with 12 lavishly renovated suites that have housed former presidents. Breakfast and mountain views come free of charge. For B&B fans, the China Clipper Inn has a backyard hot tub, in-room fireplaces and homemade muffins. 

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