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The Ouray Ice Fest Returns After Two Years of Uncertainty. It Was Their Best Yet

Coloradans Catalina Shirley and Tyler Kempney took home gold medals in the country’s longest-running ice climbing competition.

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This January, the Colorado ice climbing community was able to reunite for the first time in two years.

Ever since the Ouray Ice Festival was founded in 1996 by climbing legend Jeff Lowe, the event has been a cornerstone of both the state and national ice climbing scene. Needless to say, the community felt the blow when public health guidelines forced the fest to go virtual last year. While the fest’s annual Ouray Elite Mixed Climbing Competition still happened, the in-person clinics, parties, and events the fest has become known for were all put on hold.

This year, in the absence of gathering restrictions from the county health department, the fest was allowed to come roaring back.

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“The one word that comes to mind is heartwarming,” says Ice Park Executive Director Peter O’Neil. “I’m filled with gratitude that the whole community—both the community of ice climbers and the community of Ouray—was able to come together and make this happen.”

(Photo: Brook Hayer)

The relief and joy were palpable both within the Park’s ice-lined gorge and at evening events, where smiles plastered the faces of attendees and dancing lasted well into the night. 

“The town of Ouray felt so alive,” says Tyler Kempney, a longtime Ouray competitor and the owner of Boulder ice climbing gym The Ice Coop. “It was amazing seeing new faces looking for a sense of adventure. And seeing those I can count on to come back every year—it felt like I was home again.”

(Photo: Grumpy Highlander Adventure and Landscape Photography)

Adding to that sense of relief: The fact that the park almost didn’t have enough ice to host the event. The Thursday before Christmas, it rained in Ouray, delaminating about a third of the routes that the park’s crew of full-time ice farmers had been able to develop. It wasn’t until the last few weeks before the fest that the park started seeing consistently low nighttime temperatures. The conditions allowed the ice farmers to quickly build up and open nearly all the park’s traditional climbing areas, as well as nine new lead-only routes.

O’Neil estimates that about 2,000 climbers and spectators visited Ouray for the festival weekend.

“Clinics were sold out. All the lodging in Ouray was sold out,” he says.

The crowd’s presence was especially noticeable during the Ouray Elite Ice Climbing Competition, which has long been a focal point of festival weekend. Last year, athletes performed for the livestream in relative silence. This year, the bridge and canyon rim were both packed with spectators. Athletes took every advantage, waving at the crowds, gesturing for louder cheers, and shaking their heads mid-climb to acknowledge the announcers’s heckles. 

(Photo: Travis Perkins)

“The spectators’ energy helped carry the competitors up the wall,” says Kempney, who took gold in the men’s division after landing a spectacular dyno, one of several heart-stopping moves that made this year’s competition routes some of the most theatrical yet. (Credit goes to setting duo Marcus Garcia and Liam Foster, both longtime Ouray competitors.) 

Kempney’s win added to the drama. Last year, he was the only male competitor to top the route, but was disqualified at the last minute when judges decided that a tool strayed out of bounds. It was a controversial call that roused an uproar among his fellow competitors. But this year, he took the title from 2021 champion Keenan Griscom, who placed second. Coloradan Wes Fowler came in third.

“Redemption is sweet, isn’t it?” said competition organizer Lance Sullins as Kempney stepped onto the podium. Cheers erupted from the gathered athletes and spectators.

On the women’s side, Catalina Shirley of Durango, Colorado, took home gold after executing a fabulous figure-four sequence in finals that left spectators stunned. Last year’s champion Corey Buhay took silver, and Aneta Loužecká, a competitor visiting from the Czech Republic, placed third.

Many of the same athletes will be returning to Ouray February 3-5 for the UIAA North American Championship, the first time the U.S. has held a big international competition since the Ice Climbing World Cup Finals in Denver in 2019. (The event will be livestreamed; keep an eye on ourayicepark.com for viewing details.)

Results

 Women’s Lead

  1. Catalina Shirley
  2. Corey Buhay
  3. Aneta Loužecká
  4. Lauren Shartell
  5. Lindsey Hamm
  6. Lindsay Levine
  7. Jessica Perez
  8. April Mayhew

Men’s Lead

  1. Tyler Kempney
  2. Keenan Griscom
  3. Wesley Fowler
  4. Kevin Lindlau
  5. Logan Tyler
  6. Andrew Lamb
  7. Jędrzej Jabłoński
  8. Adam Colby Rickard
  9. Noah Rowley
  10. Tavish Hansen
  11. Tyler Howe
  12. Grant Kleeves
  13. Ian Wedow
  14. Christian Junkar
  15. Erik Gomez
  16. Jack Ziegler
  17. Jonathan Zaugg
  18. Dan Koepke
  19. Micah Day
  20. Daniel Plinksa
  21. Dominic Gonzalez-Padron
  22. Luke Ross
  23. Aaron Livingston
  24. Scott Reed
  25. Samuel Serra
  26. Joe Kinner
  27. Keith Weeks
  28. Zachary Runyan
  29. Milo Corbus
  30. Rob Cotter
  31. Eric Illick
  32. Will Williams
  33. Soren Stauersbol
  34. Amos Murray

Women’s Speed

  1. Aneta Loužecká
  2. Catalina Shirley
  3. Lauren Shartell
  4. Corey Buhay
  5. Sarah Haubert

Men’s Speed

  1. Liam Foster
  2. Keenan Griscom
  3. Kevin Lindlau
  4. Andrew Lamb
  5. Wesley Fowler
  6. Marcus Garcia
  7. Jonathan Zaugg
  8. Erik Gomez
  9. Noah Rowley
  10. Grant Kleeves
  11. Christian Junkar
  12. Lance Sullins
  13. Ian Wedow
  14. Samuel Serra
  15. Dan Koepke
  16. Scott Reed
  17. Will Williams
  18. Jack Ziegler
  19. Soren Stauersbol

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