The only year-round guide service based in Ouray, the company contracts with the Ouray Ice Festival to run clinics for beginners to experts during the three-day festival at the Ouray Ice Park.
Owner and head guide Clint Cook said two sessions, each two-and-a-half hours long, will be held during the three days of the festival, starting at 9 a.m. and at 12:30 p.m. each day.
The clinics are almost fully booked, but Cook said there are still has a few openings for people who want to learn more about ice climbing, particularly on Sunday. Classes are $30 for Ice Park members and $40 for nonmembers. Last minute cancellations may also open a few clinic classes, he said, and will be available for resale at the San Juan Mountain Guides booth near the center of the festival at the Lower Bridge on Camp Bird Road.
Cook said 12 guides from his staff will run a total of 82 clinics during the festival.
“We teach everyone from 6-year-old kids to 75-year-old grandmas out on the ice,” he said. “It’s not that difficult, and with the proper instruction, everybody loves it.”
Guiding and teaching ice climbing is the mainstay of San Juan Mountain Guides’ business, Cook said, but the company also known for guiding rock climbing and summer mountaineering.
“We run a wide gamut, and ice climbing is our bread and butter and what we’re internationally know for,” he said. “But just last summer we started offering ‘canyoneering’ trips, descending technical river canyons. It’s real popular in Utah, and around Ouray we also have great canyons.”
The company also offers climbing trips to Alaska, and international trips to climb in places like France and Switzerland during the summer months.
Business is good this year, Cook said, a vast improvement over last year.
“Last winter was the only winter where we haven’t grown,” he said. “But this year is off the hook and we’re super busy. Last year, with the economy starting to go south, we did about the same amount as 2007. But 2009 has been excellent so far, and 2010 looks great too.”
Veteran climber and Ourayite Mike O’Donnell started San Juan Mountain Guides in 1992, Cook said. O’Donnell became partners with guide Bill Gibbs, but later left to form the Cimarron Group, a company geared toward corporate outdoor adventures. Cook bought San Juan Mountain Guides from Gibbs in 2003.
With 13 professional guides at present, more than twice the number it had in 03, Cook said the company is on firm footing and looks to keep growing.
Cook predicts that the sport of ice climbing will also continue to grow.
“There’s a real misconception that it’s super extreme and you’ve got to be a body builder to climb ice,” he said. “But the beauty of the Ice Park is that it makes the sport accessible and fun, from somebody who’s never climbed anything before to the world’s best. There’s something for everyone at the Ouray Ice Park.”