OURAY — Since the 1990s, the mountain town of Ouray has been home to an enormous, man-made ice park that draws climbers from across the globe to try their hands, picks, and crampons against the frozen flows.
The free city park is located within a section of the Uncompahgre Gorge that sits just up the hill from Ouray proper; the park spans nearly two miles horizontally while boasting approximately three miles of vertical climbing terrain.
The park is operated by Ouray Ice Park Incorporated, a local nonprofit established in 1997 for the sole purpose of organizing water logistics, maintaining park plumbing, organizing events, and farming the famously climbable ice.
In the years leading up to the present, "OIPI has continued to improve the Park’s plumbing system, increase access to new terrain in the Gorge, and finance and maintain extensive infrastructure throughout the Park."
To create the stunning surfaces that attract ice-climbers from all over, the park diverts overflow from Ouray's supply.
The Ouray Ice Park exists thanks to an overflow of excess water from the City of Ouray’s spring-fed supply tank; a clever layout of irrigation pipe; more than a hundred garden-variety shower heads; a little knowledge of fluid mechanics; and a perfectly located deep, shady, and cold Uncompahgre Gorge.
The process of preparing and maintaining the park for its onslaught of active visitors starts during November and doesn't cease until approximately mid-March.
Ice farmers open up the park's line of 250 sprinklers and begin their work by pre-soaking the canyon's walls in order to facilitate a substantial drop of temperature in the rock; this process is then paired with an effort to remove vegetation from the vertical surfaces utilized for climbing before finally being followed up (once the weather is cold enough, typically in late December) by spraying the walls and creating copious amounts of climbable ice.
The actual "ice farming" takes place in the evening, OIPI reporting the usage of approximately 150,000 to 200,000 gallons from the town's overflow during each night of operation.
Since it is a free, city park, OIPI has to take part in a considerable amount of fundraising; the biggest event of the year is Ouray Ice Festival which draws climbers from across the state, across the country, and across the globe.
"In order to keep the park free, we raise money every year to operate the park through a combination of donations, memberships, events, and sponsorships. The majority of our funding comes from our largest fundraising event of the year: the annual Ouray Ice Festival and Competition, which takes place every January."
For more information on this wildly Colorado attraction, visit the Ouray Ice Park's website.