OURAY – A strong team of Russian ice climbers ascended to the top of the podium in nearly every category last weekend at the Ouray Ice Festival. The competitions, hosted at the Ouray Ice Park, featured mixed climbing and speed climbing. In addition to a strong international contingent of climbers, the event saw impressive performances from local climbers.
Late Saturday, Maxim Tomilov of Kirov, Russia, wowed crowds during the Elite Mixed Competition when he completed the entire route with seven minutes left on the clock. The only other competitor to successfully complete the route – albeit three minutes slower – was fellow Russian National Team member Alexey Dengin.
Tomilov and Dengin placed first and second in the men’s competition. Colorado’s Tyler Kempney took third place, after falling just below the end of the route.
The women’s competition saw Canadians Rebecca Lewis and Sarah Hueniken take first and second, respectively, and Ekaterina Feoktistova of Russia take third.
Though the competition was fierce, athletes cheered each other on throughout the day-long event, in which eight women and 21 men each took turns attempting to claw their way to the top. Lewis, the top female, called ice climbing competitions “the best example of camaraderie you’ll find in sports.”
The route of the mixed competition began, like most routes in the ice park, at the bottom of Uncompahgre Gorge. After a short section of ice, climbers ascended an overhanging section of rock to the base of man-made wooden wall. The wall, even steeper than the rock below, stymied most of the climbers with its small holds and cryptic, reachy movement sequences.
The small handful of climbers that made it to the top of the wall then faced four wooden cubes suspended by cables over 100 feet in the air over the gorge. By hooking the small holds on the boxes with their ice tools, they swung between the boxes in a display of strength, control and efficiency of movement.
The route, set by Andres Marin and Vince Anderson, seemed the perfect difficulty: not so challenging that no one was able to reach the top; not so easy that everyone could finish it.
Dengin, the first climber to stand atop the fourth and final cube, received a roaring ovation from crowds watching from the bleachers on the rim and from the bridge that spans the gorge.
“I love you, Ouray,” he shouted.
The Hari Berger Speed Climbing Competition (named for the speed climbing legend who died at 34 in a mountaineering accident in Austria) saw Russian Egor Trapeznikov atop the podium, with a blisteringly fast cumulative time of 47.48 seconds. Liam Foster of Durango took second place and Tomilov took third.
In the women’s competition, Feoktistova finished 36 seconds ahead of second place Catalina Shirley of Durango. Beth Goralski of Gypsum placed third.
A very different scene from the mixed climbing competition the day before, climbers raced two at a time up side-by-side ice flows during the speed competition. Once both climbers completed the route, they lowered down and switched routes. Times were then combined from both rounds.
Speed competitions like the one in Ouray are wildly different from the World Cup competitions that Feoktistova and her Russian teammates are used to. In the World Cup, the routes are typically shorter and feature ice that is much more uniform than what is found on the walls of the Uncompahgre Gorge.
But, Feoktistova said, “I’ve been competing in (World Cup competitions) for eight years, and it’s really fun to do something different.”
Foster, who placed second, raced longtime mentor Marcus Garcia of Durango for the second year in a row. The friendly competition was close, but Garcia slipped up in the last third of the second round, and Foster came out on top.
Foster took first place in the speed competition in 2019, when he raced his brother, Nathan.
“I had to beat him so badly,” he said, laughing, “that I ended up winning the whole comp.”
This is the second year in a row that Shirley, another mentee of Garcia’s, has placed second in the speed competition. Both Shirley and Foster, pending visas, will compete in the UIAA World Youth Championships in March in Kirov, Russia.
Shirley summed up the energy of the festival and the competitions well: “I just love the environment,” she said. “Everyone is just so stoked for you, and is so supportive.”
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Ouray Ice Festival. In addition to competitions, the festival featured over a hundred clinics, plenty of multimedia presentations and booths from outdoor gear vendors. It is widely regarded as one of the premiere ice climbing festivals in the country.