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An Excellent Family Experience in the Stunning San Luis Valley

Residing in the scenic expanse of the San Luis Valley, Alamosa is the ideal launching point for an unforgettable Colorado adventure. Those seeking picture-perfect vistas will be enamored with The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve which features the tallest dunes in North America with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop. Anyone interested in the different cultures that influenced this unique community should see the exhibits within the San Luis Valley Museum and Fort Garland Museum.


The Rio Frio Ice Fest has been a favorite winter event in the Alamosa area for nearly a decade, and it will take place January 27-28. Attendees will encounter a family-friendly winter celebration, and this year’s theme is superheroes. Skilled ice carvers from Colorado Ice Sculptures LLC will craft ice sculpture parodies of superheroes live. It’s the perfect opportunity for taking interactive photos with the family. Patrons with an artistic side will love the Faux Snowman Contest, which has teams competing to build the best snowman out of anything except snow and ice. The Fire and Ice Bonfire is a unique aspect of the event where a bonfire, surrounded by ice, is lit in the middle of downtown and people gather to witness the spectacle. Attendees in search of athletic competition should try the Rio Frio 5k on Ice, which is a 5K conducted entirely on the frozen Rio Grande River. interviewed Event Founder, Jeff Owsley, to learn more about this great all ages experience.  


RAL: How long has the event been running?

JO: It has evolved from the Alamosa Ice Festival, which started nine years ago, into the Rio Frio Ice Fest that was branded four years ago after the Rio Frio 5K on Ice was added to the festival weekend.


RAL: How many annual participants do you draw?

JO: Between all of the events, we estimate over 2,000 participants.


RAL: What demographic does your event attract? Children? Families? Couples?

JO: Different events during the weekend attract different demographics. The professional ice sculpting downtown draws the broadest range, while the Kiwanis Costume Contest is almost exclusively families and children. The Bonfire on Ice again brings a broad audience, as does the Rio Frio 5K on Ice, and we anticipate the new Ice Carousel will as well. The Pancake Breakfast on Sunday morning is mostly older adults.


RAL: What makes this event unique?

JO: Some would consider our extremely low temperatures in Alamosa in January a deficit (Avg Hi 34.3 F, Ave Low -1.7 F and a low of -30 to 40 F is not unusual). It allows us to do things that can't be done most anywhere else, such as run a 5K entirely on a frozen river. We keep adding activities to the festival that help people enjoy the cold - this year we will have an Ice Carousel on the Blanca Vista Park Lake. A giant circle will be cut in the ice, about 100' in diameter, and then we will cut a hole near the edge of the circle and mount an outboard motor that will slowly turn the huge circle! We found the idea in Youtube videos that primarily originate in Finland. People will be able to 'go for a ride' on the Ice Carousel!


RAL: Take me through a day at the event. What can I expect as an attendee?

JO: On Saturday, January 27, the festival kicks off with our new Ice Carousel at 10:00 am at Blanca Vista Park, which is followed by the Polar Plunge at 11:00 am at the same location. Both will have a gorgeous backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range that includes 14,000' high peaks, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and big skies that are normally bright blue and sunny. The activities shift over to Downtown Alamosa after that where you can watch professional ice sculptors carving sculptures around this year's theme of Superheroes. Some of the sculptures are interactive and provide great photo ops. There is also a Faux Snowman Contest on the sunny side of Main Street. At 2:00 pm, the Kiwanis Costume Contest begins at Nestle Tollhouse Cafe on the corner of San Juan and Main. One of the most popular events is the Grub and Pub where you can sample food and drink along Main Street from 3:00-7:00 pm, which includes the San Luis Valley Brew Pub and the new SquarePeg Brewerks. The day is capped off by a Bonfire in Ice at Main and San Juan that is an incredible sight. The main event on Sunday is the Rio Frio 5K on Ice that is one of the unique 5Ks in the country - where else can you run a race on ice? It sounds slick, but a layer of snow covers the ice and creates enough traction that normal running shoes work just fine.


RAL: What dining options will attendees encounter?

JO: Alamosa is known for authentic Mexican food restaurants, but there is a growing number of local food-focused restaurants, as well as some great ethnic food such as Italian, Thai, Chinese, and Greek.


RAL: Tell us about the overall atmosphere?

JO: The San Luis Valley is genuine Colorado and is where Colorado began. The oldest town, church, business, school district and others are all found here. Culture-wise it is very similar to New Mexico, mixed with the Colorado mountains.


RAL: Does this drive business to your local economy?

JO: The Rio Frio Ice Fest gives a boost to an otherwise slow time of the year. But the primary benefit is exposing what the San Luis Valley has to offer throughout the year so that travelers want to come back.


RAL: Why should people come to your event?

JO: When you think of winter travel experiences in Colorado, you'd usually think of ski resorts. Alamosa is an uncrowded, small-town alternative where you will experience things that will 'wow' your family and friends.

For more information about the Rio Frio Ice Fest, please visit the event website.