If there’s one thing that has put the otherwise unsung mountain town of Ouray, Colorado on the map, it’s ice climbing. The Ouray Ice Park was the brainchild of ice climbing pioneer Jeff Lowe, who made the park a reality in 1996. Since then, the Park has been owned and managed by the City of Ouray, the nonprofit Ouray Ice Park, Inc. and a mix of private and public landowners. But, if there’s a backbone to the Park and the now famous Ouray Ice Festival, it’s Ouray Mountain Sports.
The iconic store is the hub for all things ice. Owned by Bill Leo – a former college gymnast, turned Hollywood stuntman, turned ice gear pimp – OMS has been a bastion for everyone from beginner ice climbers to world-class competitors for the last two decades. Littered with artifacts of antiquated climbing gear, OMS is as much a museum of alpinism as it is a complete mountaineering outfitter. Built by Leo himself, the current store boasts 3,000 square feet, 12-foot ceilings and custom metalwork to house the enormous selection of mountaineering gear, soft goods and tools. In the store, Leo also operates a professional grade, automatic ice screw sharpener. “It’s the only one in North America,” he said. One of his clients happens to be the Army Tactical Warfare Department. So, there’s that.
OMS has a small, but stacked cast of highly experienced employees who can relate to the needs of the most serious mountaineers, but can also assist and guide those who are frontpointing for the very first time. “We have had hardly any turnover,” stated Leo. With virtually no new hires, OMS has longtime locals who’ve gotten to know the area intimately and can talk about the nuances of the surrounding mountains and backcountry. “When people come into the store,” said Leo, “they’ll be getting help from someone who’s been here for a long time.”
While the lion’s share of enthusiasm is climbing ice, OMS also caters to hiking, rafting, mountain biking, and, yes, even Jeeping. After all, Ouray is in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, with hundreds of miles of jeep trails and winter only lasts so long. With so many pursuits happening year round, it’s only logical OMS would be the town’s outdoor hub. “We’re pretty much the information center for everything,” summed up Leo.