Pandemic could put January festival on thin ice

Body

Last year’s 25th edition of the Ouray Ice Festival had all the usual fanfare — the climbing competitions and clinics, the presentations and auctions, and of course the anything-goes Saturday night Petzl Party. And to mark the silver anniversary, Ouray artist Jeff Skoloda created a 15-foot-high, steel-framed sculpture that was coated in ice, then set ablaze.

The 26th annual festival, assuming it happens, will look nothing like the events of the past, however.

The coronavirus pandemic that has scuttled nearly every annual Ouray County festival and event this spring, summer and fall is threatening to do the same to — or at least significantly alter — Ice Fest.

Ethan Funk, the Ouray City Council’s liaison to the Ouray Ice Park board of directors, told council members earlier this month the board was “strongly leaning” toward canceling the festival. Board President Lora Slawitschka told the Plaindealer she expects the board will make a decision about the festival in the next 30 to 45 days.

“The best answer is that it will look different,” she said.

The festival is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 21-24, but Slawitschka said hosting a traditional four-day event is unlikely given state health orders that continue to limit the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings and encourage physical distancing. She said some festival sponsors have already informed Ouray Ice Park, Inc., the nonprofit organization that operates the ice park, that they won’t travel to Ouray this winter due to the pandemic.

The Ice Festival is critical for the Ice Park. It’s traditionally brought in thousands of people to Ouray for a long weekend and is the biggest fundraiser of the year for OIPI, which runs on a roughly $250,000 annual budget and depends on that money to staff and manage the ice park for a four-month season.

Slawitschka said staff, headed up by new Executive Director Peter O’Neil and board members, are kicking around ideas like hosting smaller events and streaming some of them online.

“We are starting to flesh out those ideas and scenarios. There are still a lot of moving parts,” she said.