The Ouray Ice Festival Begins Today In Ouray, Colorado

North 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]