Bryan’s Christmas gift this year was epic; he is super hard to buy for, but I found the perfect thing: a surprise trip to the Ouray Ice Festival. He loves ice climbing, and had mentioned that ‘someday’ it would be cool to go to this world-renowned event. So, I made it happen, and we all went along to join in the fun and experience some true winter.
Our flight landed in Montrose late in the evening, so it was dark by the time we drove the hour south to Ouray and the mountain scenery would have to wait for the morning. Our hotel, the Box Canyon Lodge, had its own hot springs coming from the mountain into some wooden hot tubs along a series of decks, and that was where we headed for a therapeutic post-travel soak.
The Ouray Ice Festival takes place along Box Canyon, which quickly grows steep cliff along side the Uncompahgre river just north of the town of Ouray. The Ouray Ice Park farms ice along those steep walls every winter to create a free and open place to ice-climb. We could walk to it from our hotel. During the festival, thousand of people pack into the small town to enjoy the company of like-minded ice lovers. There are ice-climbing competitions, gear displays and trials, clinics for novices and experts, plus the chance to mingle and chat and link up with other people for some stellar ice-climbing.
That first day found all of us I enjoying a climb up the first-timers wall. This was a free experience! We were fitted with harness and boots with crampons, plus ice axes and the necessary helmet, then a volunteer on belay helped with advice and rope handling.
We also spent time watching the ice-climbing competitions during both our days at the festival. The observation area is along a bridge and decking above the canyon, creating a cool way to see all the action.
Bryan was able to meet some other guys and form a group to go higher into the canyon for some real ice-climbing. He has often been on his own for this sport, so it was such a good time to have him other people to go with. While he enjoyed his afternoon on the ice, the kids and I walked back a side canyon to see the 85 foot cascade down Box Canyon Falls. We returned to the hotel to soak in the hot tubs again. Of course.
Then, it started to snow. And it snowed and snowed and snowed. Ouray turned into a magical winter wonderland with at least a foot of snow over night! And it kept coming down the next day. Bryan was up early for an ice-climbing leader clinic with an older and very skilled teacher; he said she was funny and so very informative. Attending the clinic was a very worthwhile experience, and one of the few things at the festival that actually costs money. He was also able to trial gear, and chose to try a new jacket.
The kids and I spent the morning happily playing in the snow, and sledding on the hill the town. After getting nearly worn out we caught the free shuttle up to the Ice Fest area to look for Bryan. I felt sure we would be able to get a few pictures, but we didn’t spot his bright orange coat… because he had been trialing a different one! From the bridge, we probably saw him but didn’t even know. The snow then decided to begin dumping anew!
In the afternoon Bryan joined us walking, and sometimes trudging, the .8 mile along the river to the town-run Ouray Hot Springs Pool. There were a handful of other crazy people there ready to run in swimsuits from the locker room, through the snowstorm to the big outdoor hot-spring fed pool We lazed around in the pool for a couple hours, got very pruney keeping our bodies warm below the surface while our hair became crusted with rime ice above the water. It was one of those days that was so pleasurably exhausting we loved every minute; talk then turned to how cool it would be to live in a place with 4 solid seasons and the chance to play in snow every winter! We all agreed over mexican food dinner at Buen Tempo that it would be pretty fun for a while.
On our final day, Bryan met up with his new ice-climbing buddy for an early morning on the ice. The kids and I lounged in the hot tub to watch the sun appear on a crystalline sunny morning. When thoroughly pruned, we returned to the room to pack up and dig out the rental car from its snowy cocoon. We popped over to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on the way back to Montrose for our evening flight; at the time our government was shut down, so park facilities were closed but the gate was open and we could still enjoy the splendor.
I’m not sure how to top this gift for Bryan next Christmas. If you have any ideas, let me know!!