News

26th Annual Ouray Ice Festival Sees Thrilling Wins, Worldwide Reach

Colorado locals Corey Buhay and Keenan Griscom took gold in Ouray’s 26th annual mixed climbing competition.

Member Exclusive

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great benefits.

Join

Already a member?

Sign In
Route-setter Marcus Garcia worked overnight to swap out holds between qualifying rounds. Photo: Jeff Rueppel.

This year marked the 26th edition of the Ouray Ice Festival, which was first established in 1996 by the late Jeff Lowe. Over the years, the festival’s centerpiece competition has encompassed a variety of routes and climbing styles. But in all that time, there’s never been an event quite like this one.

When COVID-19 mandates from the Ouray County health department drastically limited gathering sizes, Ouray Ice Festival organizers put their heads together to rework this year’s fest as a virtual event. With help from sponsors and the state of Colorado, the Ouray Ice Park, a small city nonprofit, poured its resources into livestreaming a radically reimagined competition, expanding the traditionally single-day exhibition into a four-day, World Cup-style tournament.

For two intense days of qualifying rounds, 46 athletes gathered in the Uncompahgre River Gorge amid the snow-dusted San Juan Mountains. Missing this year were the crowds of spectators packing the canyon rim and the lower bridge. Instead, signs and roped gates deterred passersby, and only athletes and volunteers were permitted to linger and cheer. In the Ice Park, the competitors benefitted from a quiet, intimate atmosphere as they went head-to-head on Ouray’s traditional competition route, Mighty Aphrodite (M8), and on the artificial tower that extends above it.

On the livestream, though, stiff competition, 40-foot wingers, sophisticated cinematography, and dynamic climbing made for a high-production-value event that was anything but quaint. Renowned international climbing announcer Liam Lonsdale served as emcee, with assistance from the alpinist and longtime competition organizer Vince Anderson. Professional commentary and camerawork lent World Cup-level  flair and professionalism to what became a thrilling virtual showcase. The event was watched around the world, drawing tens of thousands of viewers from as far away as Russia, Korea, and Romania. (You can watch finals online here.)

Corey Buhay took first place for the women in the 2021 Ouray Mixed Comp. Photo: Brook Hayer.

Corey Buhay, of Colorado, finished first for women, the only competitor to top the ladies’ finals route. As an interesting bonus, she climbed one hold further to the top of the men’s route by mistake. She ultimately fell while clipping the men’s final draw, taking a massive whipper that elicited an uproar of cheers from the small gathered crowd of athletes and volunteers.

Rounding out the podium were Angela Limbach, from Wisconsin, in second, and Catalina Shirley, from Colorado, in third. All three women are competitors for the US Ice Climbing Team.

Due to travel restrictions, all competitors for this year’s event were Americans. Despite the limited athlete pool, the 2021 women’s field was the biggest the Fest has seen in years, as well as among the most consistent. A dozen women competed, and 11 of the 12 made it to the top of Mighty Aphrodite in qualifiers, all cruising the reachy crux which has historically proven a challenge for shorter climbers. On day two of qualifiers, the top four females not only reached the tower but out-climbed many of the mid-pack men.

Just shy of the podium were strong newcomers and first-time Ouray competitors Keiko Tanaka in fourth place and Roz Reynolds in fifth. Longtime competitor Beth Goralski finished in sixth.

Lauren Shartell on the second qualifier route. Photo: Jeff Rueppel.

The men’s finals route saw only one top, by Colorado-based climbing coach and US Ice Climbing Team member Tyler Kempney. In a heartbreaking call by the judges, his score was ultimately slashed due to a technical error on the ice curtain that separates Might Aphrodite from the tower; one tool had strayed out of bounds.

That left the gold medal to 16-year-old phenom Keenan Griscom, who finished just a few holds shy of the final quickdraw. Montanan Kevin Lindlau won silver and Colorado local Cody Stevenson went home with the bronze.

Keenan Griscom took first for the men. Photo: Jeff Rueppel.

Sunday’s speed competition, which was not livestreamed, saw more Coloradans take the podium. Beth Goralski placed first among women, followed by Lindsay Hastings in second and Catalina Shirley in third. On the men’s side, 2018 and 2019 speed champion Liam Foster took first, barely edging out Cody Stevenson, who took second. Kevin Lindlau and Seattleite Tom Beirne tied for third.

The 2021 Ouray Ice Festival finished out with its traditional closing ceremony and fundraising event, which featured virtual interviews with podium finishers Keenan Griscom, Cody Stevenson, Catalina Shirley, and Angela Limbach. The silent auction, also a beloved Ice Fest staple and major source of funds for the nonprofit Ice Park, will extend through January 27.

Mixed Comp Results

Women

1. Corey Buhay

2. Angela Limbach

3. Catalina Shirley

4. Keiko Tanaka

5. Roz Reynolds

6. Beth Goralski

6.  Lauren Shartell

8. Lindsay Hastings

9. Nicole Mericle

10.  April Mayhew

11.  Lindsay Levine

12.  Sophie Povirk

Men

1. Keenan Griscom

2. Kevin Lindlau

3. Cody Stevenson

4. Thomas Gehrlein

5. Liam Foster

6. Jędrzej Jabłoński

7. Andrew Lamb

8. Tyler Kempney

9. Ryan Vachon

9. Noah Bergman

11.  Wesley Fowler

11. Erik Gomez

13. Logan Tyler

14. Charlie Faust

15. David Roetzel

15. Grant Kleeves

17. John Alcorn

18. Thomas Beirne

19. Colby Rickard

20. Jonathan Zaugg

21. Rob Cotter

22. Josh Mudge

22. Dan Koepke

24. Jeb Thompson

25. Justin Kile

26. Ian Wedow

26. Keith Weeks

28. Milo Corbus

29. Christian Junkar

30. Dominic Gonzalez-Padron

31. Nathan Foster

32. Daniel Plinksa

33. Devon Derby

34. Soren Stauersbol

Speed Comp Results

Women

1. Beth Goralski

2. Lindsay Hastings

3. Catalina Shirley

4. Roz Reynolds

5. Lindsay Levine

6. Corey Buhay

7. Erica Givans

8. Angela Limbach

9. Maple Damien

Men

1. Liam Foster

2. Cody Stevenson

3. Tom Beirne

3. Kevin Lindlau

5. Keenan Griscom

6. Wesley Fowler

7. Marcus Garcia

8. Thomas Gehrlein

9. Jonathan Zaugg

10. Lance Sullins

11. Christian Junkar

12. Noah Bergman

13. Nate Foster

14. Dan Koepke

15. Dominic Gonzalez-Padron

16. Tyler Kempney

17. Jeb Thompson

18. Milo Corbus