The Ouray Ice Festival Begins Today In Ouray, Colorado

The Ouray Ice Festival begins todayNorth America’s largest ice climbing competition gets underway in Colorado today with the start of the Ouray Ice Festival. The event is held annually at the Ouray Ice Park and pits the best climbers in the world against one another in a host of challenges designed to test their strength and skill.

Using ice axes in each hand and crampons on their boots, competitors will attempt to climb a variety of routes along a frozen waterfall located inside the Ice Park. They’ll each be timed on how quickly they are able to finish their routes, with the fastest climber earning the victory. Considering there will be $16,000 of prize money up for grabs across several events and categories, you can bet the competition will be intense.

Ice climbing is certainly not for the faint of heart. It requires nerves of steel to take part in this sport, as climbers ascend nearly vertical sections of frozen water. They use specially designed climbing axes to chip into the ice, creating handholds they can use to lift themselves up. Meanwhile, the crampons on their boots can be kicked into the ice to create support that can be used to step up to higher levels. They complete the climb by pulling themselves up with the axes while kicking into the ice with their feet. The entire time they have to pay close attention to the ice to ensure it is solid and stable enough to continue along the route.The Ouray Ice Park is one of the best places in the world to actually go ice climbing. Located in a natural gorge just outside the town of Ouray, the park features more than 200 climbing routes, most just a short distance from the entrance. Those excellent conditions make the Ice Park a huge draw for climbers from across the globe. It doesn’t hurt that entry is absolutely free thanks to extensive fund raising during the Ice Festival.

If you’re interested in trying ice climbing for yourself, walk-up climbing is available at the Festival from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting today and running through the weekend. There are also a number of clinics designed to help hone your skills and a gear expo to show off the latest climbing equipment. Numerous competitions, film screenings, award ceremonies and other fun events will also take place over the course of the weekend, giving spectators a chance to learn more about the sport and the men and women who take part in it. For a complete schedule of events, click here.

[Photo Credit: Ouray Ice Park]

Ski Town Holidays: Not Just For Skiers

dogsleddingIt sounds crazy, but not all ski-town tourists are there to downhill ski. In fact, many don’t even know how. I’ll also let you in on a local’s secret: not all permanent residents of ski towns know how to ski, and of those who do, many can’t even afford a season pass.

The fact is, there are now more options than ever for non-skiers and those on a tight budget to engage in other winter sports, if they’re not willing or able to hit the slopes. I know many couples that have differing ideas of a ski vacation: one loves alpine skiing, while the other is happier sitting by a fire drinking hot toddies or shopping. They make it work.

Regardless of your mutual or differing snow-centric passions, ski town holidays can work for everyone. Most resorts now have Nordic centers and outfitters that offer at least some combination of the below list, so there’s no excuse not to get out there this winter.

Nordic/cross-country skiing (free/cheap rentals!)
Snowshoeing (ditto)
Dog sledding (please do your research beforehand, to make sure the business has no animal welfare citings)
Cultural tours
Adaptive sports
Spas
Skjioring (when a skier is pulled by a dog or horse0
Ice-climbing
Hot springs
Sleigh rides
Horseback riding

[Photo credit: Flickr user US Embassy Sweden]

Winter riding at The Home Ranch, in Clark, Colorado (near Steamboat Springs)

Avoiding Altitude Woes: What To Bring On Your Next Ski Trip

skierThere are few things that bum out a ski trip more than altitude issues. Even if your symptoms are just in the form of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia or nausea – it’s often enough to make you wish you’d stayed at home.

I live in Colorado, and have resided in a couple of high-altitude ski towns in the past. Since our ski season just kicked off, for the purposes of this post I’m only focusing on AMS, rather than more serious forms of altitude sickness.

Predisposition to AMS is subjective. Age, physiology, genetics, and physical fitness may or may not play a role. If, however, you’ve got congestive heart failure, a nice alpine getaway may not be the best thing. Conversely, if you’re not in the habit of drinking lots of water at elevation, you’re going to feel like hell, regardless of how fit you are.

The higher the elevation, the harder your body has to work, because air pressure is lower (i.e. there’s less oxygen, which is also why it’s dehydrating). The body responds by producing more red blood cells to increase circulation. The short answer is, high elevations stress the body.

To ensure your next visit to the mountains is free of altitude-related woes, follow these tips:

  • Hydrate – with water, not soda or other sugary beverages – then hydrate some more. Amounts vary depending upon your gender, activity level and weight; 2.5 liters a day is considered a rough daily estimate necessary for good health at sea level. If you’re seriously shredding the pow, then a sports drink with electrolytes at day’s end is also a good idea.
  • If you have health concerns, acclimate slowly, if possible. Try to spend a night at a lower elevation before heading to your destination. Example: Fly into Denver (5,280 feet), before heading to Aspen (7,890 feet).
  • Go easy the first 48 hours, as you acclimatize.
  • Since you’re burning and expending more calories, be sure to eat small, regular meals or snacks when you’re out there tearing it up on the slopes.
  • Reduce (I know better than to say “avoid”) consumption of alcohol. At altitude, one drink has double the impact. This makes for a cheap date, but it can do a number on your head and body. Pace yourself, and drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage. You’re welcome.
  • Take Diamox, ibuprofen, or aspirin, which will eliminate many of your symptoms such as headache, sluggishness, or dizziness. When I attended culinary school in Vail, one of our classrooms was located at 11,000 feet. Our first week of school, most of us were nodding off due to the altitude, and aspirin was far more effective than caffeine.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping, you can try an OTC, or avail yourself of the local hot tub or a warm bath before bed (remember to hydrate afterward!). If you already have insomnia issues, be sure to bring your prescription or regular OTC with you.
  • Slather on the sunscreen. Not only is the sun far stronger at elevation, but its reflection off the snow can reduce your skin and eyes to cinders. Know what else a potent sunburn does? Speeds dehydration. As well as photoaging and skin cancer, but that’s a topic for another article.
  • Don’t get cocky. I live at 5360 feet, and sometimes, even I forget to follow my own advice – a certain crushing hangover in Vail two weeks ago comes to mind. Just because you live at altitude doesn’t mean you’re used to higher altitude. You’ll be better conditioned, yes. But you still need to hydrate regularly, and for the love of god, go easy on the bourbon rocks.

For more detailed information on altitude sickness, including extreme elevations, click here.

Wishing you a safe, happy snow season!

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user laszlo-photo; tea, Flickr user Kitty Terwolbeck]

The Teva Winter Mountain Games begin today

The Teva Winter Mountain Games Being TodayThe first-ever Teva Winter Mountain Games get underway today in Vail, Colorado, where some of the top pro and amateur outdoor athletes have gathered to compete in a variety of sports. The event, which lasts through the weekend, will also feature a number of concerts, gear giveaways, clinics, and more.

Some of the sports that the athletes will be competing in including ice climbing, Nordic and telemark skiing, snowshoeing, and on-snow cycling. Even man’s best friend can get in on the action, as there are several events for dogs to compete too. But the biggest event of the weekend is the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, which features three different sports spread out over three days. In order to be crowned the King or Queen of the Mountain, a single athlete will have to fend off all the competition in a Nordic Freestyle race today, than follow it up with an up-hill cross country skiing competition tomorrow. On Sunday, those same competitors will then square off in the toughest stage of all – a skiing race up, over, and back down, Vail Mountain.

A large group of spectators are expected to be hand over the three-day event, cheering on their favorite athletes. That crowd won’t have to sit on the sidelines without getting the opportunity to join in on the fun however, as they’ll get the chance to take part in photo competitions and clinics, test out some gear, and hone their own winter outdoor skills. They can also enjoy an adventure film festival, listen to some live bands, and join the celebration at several parties.

The inaugural Teva Winter Mountain Games is a natural extension of the summer Mountain Games, which will be taking place later this year. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast who loves to run, ride, or climb, you’ll certainly find a lot to love at both events.


REI Adventures offers winter weekend getaways

Rei Adventures offers up some great winter escapesLooking to add a little activity and adventure back into your weekends now that the football season is officially over? Then REI Adventures may have exactly what you need. The company, which is the travel arm of the REI gear stores, has introduced several new winter weekend getaways that will get you out playing in the snow this February and March.

These excursions are short – most are just three or four days in length – but pack plenty of activity into the itinerary. Local guides lead groups of active outdoor enthusiasts into some of the more remote, and beautiful winter playgrounds in the U.S., giving them the opportunity to visit those locations at a time when crowds are non-existent.

Amongst the new trips for 2012 is a three day snowshoeing excursion into the Adirondack Mountains, where travelers will stay in a rustic log-cabin while spending a long weekend hiking some of the more scenic trails in the region. Similarly, REI offers a four day snowshoeing trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during which visitors will trek past frozen waterfalls and visit caves along the shores of Lake Superior. And for those looking for something even more adventurous and active, there is a three day escape to the Catskills to do some ice climbing.

These short, but active trips are proof positive that we don’t have to stay inside all winter waiting for the warm weather to arrive. REI Adventures will give you a reason to dig out your warm clothes and boots and head outside for some much-needed winter fun.