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. With a varied geography that includes attractive peaks, high mountain valleys and an abundance of water ice, the San Juan 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 snowshoeing technique and avalanche hazard evaluation, and with 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 week in the San Juans.

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.

Skier in Red Mountain Pass CO

A skier enjoys some fresh powder snow in Commodore Basin on Red Mountain Pass outside of Ouray, CO. Zach Lovell. 

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, and shelter for the winter and 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

Climbers on the Wall Overview

Climbers exploring the water ice at the Ouray Ice Park, CO. Zach Lovell

  • 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 travel
  • Navigation and route finding in both good and poor visibility
  • Leave No Trace climbing, camping, and travel skills


AAI's Winter Comprehensive Progression

This winter mountaineering course can be combined with our waterfall ice program and our backcountry skiing program. When taken together or pieced together over a season or two, these programs together make up our "winter comprehensive curriculum." Here are links to the other program in this progression:


Winter Mountaineering - Ouray, Colorado

Pricing, Dates and Details

Cost - $1895

Max Ratio: 3:1 (Climber:Guide) 


  • 2024/25 Dates TBD

Additional dates available on a private basis. Call for details. 


  • Previous backpacking experience
  • Beginner - intermediate snowshoeing ability
  • Good physical condition
  • No previous climbing experience is required

Cost Inclusions and Exclusions:

Inclusions: Included in the course cost group technical climbing equipment, permits, the guide fee, ice tools and crampons. As part of the expedition training, we will be backcountry camping for the duration of the course, these camping fees are included. 

Exclusions: Not included in the course cost are food costs, and personal equipment. During the waterfall ice portion of the course, you will be responsible for the cost of front-country camping or other lodging. We highly recommend staying in a cabin or a lodge to maximize the time and energy that can be devoted to climbing. 

Rental Equipment

For beginners and other climbers who do not have their own personal equipment, we offer rental equipment.  The following items are available to rent in Ouray:

  • helmets
  • harnesses
  • ice axes
  • crampons
  • ice tools

Please note that we do not rent boots in Ouray; your best option if you need this gear for your course is to contact Ouray Mountain Sports.  Regardless of what you need, please be sure to alert all parties of your rental needs as soon as possible.

Lodging, Shuttle Service, and Directions

Your travel dates should allow for an arrival in town the day before your program begins and for departure the day after your trip ends. We do not recommend that you fly out any earlier than the day after your course.   

If you are traveling by air, Telluride, CO is the closest airport, but Montrose is not much farther and is usually better to fly into. If you would like assistance arranging air travel or a rental vehicle please feel free to contact our Travel Coordinator, Lisa Greif, at 509-972-4028.

During this course, you will need to provide transportation to and from the course location and possibly while on the course. You should come prepared to drive yourself and your instructor to and from the trailhead and climbing areas. If you would like assistance arranging a rental vehicle please feel free to contact our Travel Coordinator, Lisa Greif, at 509-972-4028.  

Travel Insurance

We strongly recommend that you purchase comprehensive travel insurance that includes trip cancellation coverage.  Ripcord is our primary travel insurance provider, offering coverage for trip cancellation, trip delay, baggage, medical evacuation and other eventualities. 

Unlike many vacations that are less physically demanding, a climbing and trekking vacation can be ruined by an illness or relatively minor injury that occurs before departure. While you can still tour a city or head to the beach with a sprained ankle or a very bad cold (albeit, less conveniently), such an injury or common illness can stop you in your tracks short of your climbing or trekking destination.

Winter Mountaineering - Ouray, Colorado

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