RED CLIFF — Red Cliff has long been a haunt of backcountry skiers and snowmobilers, but soon the little town tucked between Battle Mountain and Camp Hale may start drawing ice climbers as well.
The town, in partnership with Avon-based Apex Mountain Guides, plans to build an outdoor ice-climbing park that they hope will draw enthusiasts from all over the state and the country. Plans for the park are still in the works, and the town’s board of trustees has yet to vote on it.
Still, Red Cliff Mayor Scott Burgess said he’s optimistic that the park will be a social and economic boon for the town, bringing some of the benefits that ice-climbing destinations like Ouray have experienced.
“We have a solid concept,” Burgess said. “The cliffs along Water Street are perfect for an ice park. If we get it constructed, it’ll be the second biggest ice-climbing park in the country behind Ouray. Plus, ice climbers are very respectful of their environment and the kind of people we want in town. Also, they spend a lot of money — some of these people are preparing to climb Everest.”
Not that Red Cliff is looking to become Ouray — Ouray’s park is up year-round, with a set-up that Burgess said “is a bit unsightly in the summertime.” Red Cliff’s park would only be open three or four months a year, tucked away on the cliffs along Water Street.
“We want to be green about it and keep it tucked away in the summertime,” Burgess said.
The park would probably draw water from the river and water the cliffs through a series of sprinklers and pipes. As a result, ice features are controlled, and designers can make routes of various levels of difficulty.
Cost is estimated to be $250,000, funded by Apex Mountain School and various private investors. If the project is approved soon, Burgess said he thinks the park could be up and running by the winter of 2015-16.
Details are to be determined, but the park will likely be open to the public and charge on a membership basis.
Apex Mountain School would run many of their ice climbing trips at the park.
Putting Red Cliff on the map
The proposed project has drummed up considerable interest in the town, where almost 20 people (roughly the number of people who came to hearings about retail marijuana) came to recent presentation by Apex Mountain School’s Scott Smith.
Burgess said he feels most residents are in favor of the project or on the fence until they learn more.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the town to have some economic development,” Burgess said. “Mango’s could have more people eating at it. The hotel would have more people stay at it. Most people won’t know that it’s there. I don’t think it will be that big of an impact.”
Mango’s Mountain Grill draws many snowmobilers coming over Shrine Pass and backcountry skiers ending their day with a drink and fish tacos. Others want an off-the-beaten-path mountain retreat away from the cities and away from the more expensive alternatives. Co-owner Mallory Parks said she would be excited to draw even more outdoor enthusiasts to visit the town.
“I do think in general more draws to come to Red Cliff will help the town immensely,” she said. “We have such a gem right here, and many people drive right past it. I only see (the ice-climbing area) as another benefit so we can share Red Cliff with more people.”
Avid ice climbers are excited at the prospect as well. East Vail boasts some of the top natural ice climbing routes in the state, but as Edwards climber Joe Drew points out, the area isn’t for beginners, and the frozen falls can be difficult to access.
“I usually go to East Vail, and it’s good ice climbing, but it’s not a good place to learn, access is an issue crossing some private land, and parking is a problem,” he said. “This sounds like a good location (at Red Cliff) and would provide a controlled and safe environment.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.