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After trudging a quarter-mile through a thicket of aspen trees, our crampon-clad feet crunching through untouched swaths of snow, we finally arrived at our destination: an amphitheater of towering rock coated in thick pleats of wintergreen ice.
I surveyed what appeared before me — a 70-foot-tall arctic wall known as Lower Ames Falls, located about 12 miles southwest of Telluride, Colo., in the San Juan Mountains. And my beginner’s eye registered more “intimidating behemoth” than “practice spot for first-time ice climbers.”
But Josh Butson, president and lead guide of San Juan Outdoor Adventures, was there to prove me wrong.
“Ice climbing is so much fun, and anyone can do it,” he said. “I like to let people know that if they can walk up stairs or climb a ladder, they can ice climb.”
As I began my first ascent, kicking my front crampon “claw” into the ice one foot at a time, I reminded myself to keep my feet level with each other for stability. With my right hand, I heaved a pick forward in my first attempt to secure a hold. It flopped against the stubborn surface with a whimper.
“Just flick the wrist like this, with your knuckles close to the ice,” Butson said, demonstrating how to stick the picks into the rigid facade, which had the resistance of a block of cheese when he did it.
Each time I tried, though, it was as if I was pounding the picks into concrete. I became frustrated as my calves burned, offended at bearing the full weight of my body as I climbed.
“Keep those picks above your head,” I heard from below.
I rested my helmeted head against the ice before searching for a hold again.
“I could just quit now,” I thought, afraid to look down for fear of upending my attempt altogether.
The firm support of crampons fastening me to the ice was reassuring, and I leaned momentarily into my harness to catch my breath.
“You’re almost there, Heather!”
I heard a woman’s voice encouraging me from the base, and I urged my legs to compensate for my uncooperative arms in a final push to the top.
The descent was much easier — not only because I could relax into my harness and step down the ice, claiming minor victory over self-doubt, but also because of what awaited me afterward: fireside charcuterie, eiswein (ice wine) and fresh chocolate-chip cookies at The Hotel Telluride.
These rewards are part of the hotel’s new Two Picks and a Prayer package, a three-night offering that aims to take guests beyond the slopes of this world-class ski town.
“We want to attract adventurous people who are curious about the area and will appreciate its unique beauty, but may not necessarily be skiers or snowboarders,” said Molly Yakas, assistant general manager for The Hotel Telluride. “Ice climbing is a great way to get out in nature, test one’s boundaries and try a new adventure. And the area has so many opportunities to do so.”
In addition to a half-day lesson and post-climb treats, the package includes two 60-minute massages through Telluride Spa Concierge at The Hotel Telluride (gratuity included). Guests can schedule additional activities, as well, such as a half-day snowmobiling tour with Telluride Outside, or fat-bike rentals at Box Canyon Bicycles for the 3-mile trek along the Valley Floor to Telluride Brewing Company.
“Telluride is not just for those who want to ride the mountain; it has so much more to offer,” Yakas said. “This is a way to let people know there is something for everyone in our winter wonderland.”
Note: Two Picks and a Prayer starts from $1,739 (based on double occupancy) and is available through April 7. Subject to weather conditions; based on availability. Blackout dates apply. Bookable only via The Hotel Telluride at least 14 days in advance.
The DetailsSan Juan Outdoor Adventureswww.tellurideadventures.com
The Hotel Telluridewww.thehoteltelluride.com