Winter Mountaineering - Ouray, Colorado


Waterfall _ice

A climber on Colorado Ice, Dylan Taylor

The San Juan Mountains near Ouray in southwestern Colorado enjoy some of the finest snow conditions in North America; coupled with a varied geography that includes attractive peaks, high mountain valleys, and an abundance of water ice, those conditions create one of the finest winter sports areas on the continent. A weather pattern that typically brings cold, clear days helps create especially good climbing and skiing opportunities.

We begin this program with either two or three days of climbing instruction and practice on waterfall ice. Building from skills in cramponing, ice axe technique, and use of a second hand tool, we gradually progress to application of those techniques to more challenging ground at a pace appropriate to each climber. Thoroughly covering rope management and protective systems, the instructors work to develop both good technique and good judgment in each climber.

During the backcountry segment, we travel into the high country where we establish a base camp that puts us in good position to work on a variety of skills. Following training in ski technique and avalanche hazard evaluation, conditions allowing, we may make a scenic and rewarding ascent during which participants combine and apply all the skills they have been working on during their San Juan week.


Winter Mountaineering - Ouray, Colorado


Upon completion of this program, you should be capable of gaining safe access to the backcountry and high alpine peaks, and you should be able to camp and climb comfortably in a variety of conditions. The training should allow you to become a proficient rope team member, capable of making alpine ascents of intermediate technical difficulty. The curriculum is also designed to prepare you for Arctic climbing as well as non-Arctic high altitude climbing which commonly involves winter-like conditions.

Winter mountaineering encompasses one of the most aesthetic and rewarding aspects of the varied sport of climbing. Like all forms of the sport, winter mountaineering has as much to do with mental challenge as it does with physical endurance and the successful application of technical skills. In addition to applying a range of climbing skills, as a winter climber you must also understand and evaluate snowpack stability, avalanche hazard, and mountain weather; do route finding under sometimes difficult conditions; maintain suitable shelters in cold and wind; and attend precisely to the details of climbing technique and protective systems.

This program can most easily be conducted while using snowshoes, and previous snowshoeing experience is not required. It can also be done using telemark or randonnee gear, but to elect this option, you must be an advanced-intermediate skier on ungroomed terrain. All participants must use either snowshoes or skis in each program. Course fees vary according to the client-to-guide ratio (the maximum ratio is 4:1).

The following are the essential skills and concepts that will be covered in the course.

The Physics and Physiology of Cold Weather

  • an introduction to human physiology in cold weather;
  • equipment, clothing;
  • shelter for the winter;
  • expedition climber;
  • internal maintenance: food and drink in a cold environment;
  • avalanche hazard evaluation techniques;
  • avalanche release mechanisms;
  • avalanche rescue procedures.

Winter/Expeditionary Climbing and Protective Systems Skills

  • selection and use of ropes, knots and harnesses;
  • design concept, selection and use of ice axe and second hand tools;
  • proper choice and application of the primary ice axe positions: piolet canne, panne, manche, poignard, ancre, and traction;
  • French, German, and American cramponing techniques;
  • selection and placement of snow pickets and flukes for protection and belay anchors;
  • selection and placement of ice screws for protection and belays;
  • simulation of glacier travel and practice of crevasse rescue skills;
  • establishment and maintenance of fixed lines and the use of ascenders.

Skills for Winter Travel

  • techniques for skiing or snowshoeing varied, backcountry snow conditions;
  • techniques for skiing or snowshoeing gentle or steep terrain with a full pack;
  • principles of roped glacier skiing;
  • navigation and route finding in both good and poor visibility;
  • Leave No Trace climbing, camping, and travel skills.

Winter Mountaineering - Ouray, Colorado

Pricing, Dates and Details

Cost - $985 (Minimum 3); 2:1 $1120; 1:1 $1750

Max Ratio: 4:1 (Climber:Guide) 



  • December 16 - 20, 2017
  • December 20 - 24, 2017
  • December 27 - 21, 2017
  • January 3 - 7, 2018
  • January 10 - 14, 2018
  • January 24 - 28, 2018
  • Feburary 7 - 11, 2018

Additional dates are available as a private course.


Backpacking experience; intermediate skiing ability (or use snowshoes); good physical condition; no previous climbing experience is required.

Cost Inclusions and Exclusions:

Tuition includes the use of group climbing equipment and ice tools and crampons. It does not include transportation, lodging, food costs, or personal equipment. As part of the expedition training, we will be camping during the backcountry portion of the course. While you can camp during the waterfall ice portion of the course, we highly recommend staying in a cabin or a lodge to maximize the time and energy that can be devoted to climbing. The cost of the cabin or lodge is not included in the program cost.

Winter Mountaineering - Ouray, Colorado

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