Ice climbing
Climbing a frozen waterfall

Where’s the best place to learn to ice climb?

Where in the U.S. should I go to learn to ice climb this winter? Is Ouray really worth the trip?

Ice climbing
Greg Melville

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The answer really depends on where you live. You can find fantastic schools, and prime glazed rock slabs, scattered across the Northeast, Midwest, West, and even Southeast. But if I could instantly transport you to one place to learn, then yes, I’d send you to the San Juan mountains around Ouray in southwestern Colorado. The convergence of consistently frigid air, trickling water, and relatively easy access are the closest to ice climbing perfection within a half-day’s plane travel in the US. The old mining town of Ouray even sprays down the cliffs along a mile-long stretch of the Uncompahgre Gorge every winter to create an ice climbing park that draws 12,000 people annually. Every January, the park hosts the high holiday of North American ice climbing: the Ouray Ice Festival. Above Ouray Ice & Tower Rock Guides provides a daylong course in basic ice climbing; Rates start at $119/day.

If you’re on the East Coast, the White Mountains of New Hampshire are an eminently worthy alternative. The rain, occasional thaws, and rapid temperature changes of the New England mountains may make skiers curse the weather gods, but they also create amazing frozen waterfalls. The White Mountain National Forest around North Conway has been the hub of Northeastern ice climbing for nearly a century, and Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School holds a near monopoly on the region’s top instructors. Clinics start at $60 per person.

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