By Owen Woods |
Photos by Andrew Parnes for the Citizen


SOME might say that the art of sending a postcard is long lost. Don’t tell Alamosa’s outdoor recreation supervisor John Reesor that. He theorized that part of the reason 275 people turned out to race in the Rio Frio 5k is because they received a postcard. A postcard that reminded them: the race is on. 

In the nine years the Rio Frio 5k has been around, this is the largest group to participate. Runners, joggers, walkers, and dogs from nine different states turned up in the chilly but grand morning. For some it was their first frigid river run. For a few more, like Jeff Owsley, one of the creators of the Rio Frio 5k, it was their tenth. 

“This is number nine!” Owsley told the crowd at Cole Park on Saturday morning. The vision started 10 years ago. Owsley put up a Facebook post and soon after “we had 20-some runners that did it the very first year, it was like a practice run. We had a professional photographer who took pictures.” He said those photos went on to be published in Runner’s World. 

“Then nine years ago, we started with the real thing,” he said. 

When the 5k started, the course was on the frozen river. The width of the river allowed for a whole lot of people to move around on the ice and the temperatures were consistent enough to keep the ice thick. 

Since the Rio hasn’t been as frio, rather than running on the river, the track led everyone alongside instead. Starting at Cole Park, racers packed into the baseball fields behind the starting line. The first leg of the course was a single lap around the park and up to the walking bridge. From there, racers followed the levee to the frozen leg of the track on the Blanca Vista ponds. Looping the ponds, the course had everyone retrace their steps back to the footbridge. Then it was a loop around the backside of the baseball fields to the finish line. 

Sebastian Campos, a San Luis native and current Denver resident, kept the heat with a six-minute pace. He finished first with a time of 19:07. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Campos came down for the 2nd Annual Rio Trio last summer and swept that competition, too. 

While presenting Campos with his medal, Reesor told the crowd that he’s their “poster child” for the Frio/Trio events. 

The race, though, was just the beginning of the weekend’s events.

THE 275 racers and their families were done before lunch and the day was just warming up. The party moved from Cole Park to Main Street Alamosa. The traffic was heavy at noon. People crossed the streets in groups of four and six. The restaurants on Main and Main adjacent were filling up and filling up quickly. Efram Ortiz’s disc jockeying over on San Juan Avenue combined with businesses playing music at their front doors, creating a harmony and rhythm that Alamosa usually only sees in the summer. 

Main Street hummed and buzzed with the jazz of life. 

On San Juan, there sat a 10-foot piece of hollow ice, filled with pallet boards. A shade tent was turned on its side to protect it like it was a vampire or a celebrity. The shade simply protected the ice until later. At night, the ice was gonna burn. 


Male Overall
Sebastion Campos, 19:07. 6:07 pace.
Dan Rael, 19:13. 6:11 pace.
Mario Villalba, 20:35. 6:38 pace. 

Female Overall
Sarah Hughes, 22:46. 7:20 pace.
Shae Romero, 23:15. 7:29 pace.
Jessie Dejong, 25:01. 8:04 pace. 

Male Masters Overall
Chad Mortensen, 20:37. 6:38 pace.
Tim Macintyre, 20:55. 6:44 pace.
Scott Graber, 21:41. 6:59 pace. 

Female Masters Overall
Desiree Peterson, 27:09. 8:45 pace.
Stephanie Riggenbach, 27:09. 8:45 pace.
Laura Villalba, 27:14. 8:46 pace. 

Full results HERE.

skiers on a course lit by luinaria, left, and an ice sculpture

Friday’s Rio Frio Luminaria ski at Blanca Vista Park, left, and a snow boarder mid-flight, one of many ice sculptures downtown.

THE KOA had a table filled with all the fixings for s’mores. A little coal-burning stove sat on the ground, inviting everyone to come cook a ’mallow. Kids and adults alike took joy in the wonder of graham crackers, chocolate, and hot marshmallows. 

There was also rumor of hot chocolate, hot tea, and better yet, hot toddies. 

The Alpine Achievers Initiative had prizes frozen in ice for kids to break open. 

Across the street in front of The Shop, a masterful sculptor from Colorado Ice Works used a combination of dremel, chainsaw, and hand chisel to craft a snowboarder mid-flight. Using stacks of ice blocks, the sculptors unpeeled the crystal layers flake by flake to reveal something… pretty cool

The ice sculptures will now sit on the south side of Main Street until they evaporate into the water cycle. 

Clouds came in and covered the sun (good news for the ice) and so did the wind (bad news for everyone else). Yet it didn’t stop the fun. Besides, the Ice Bar was ready and Scott Graber, owner of San Luis Valley Brewing, was pouring shots and pouring beers. If alcohol’s good for anything, it’s helping to tolerate the wind. 

As the sun set for the day, the wind calmed down and San Juan’s beat wasn’t slowing. Nightfall meant fire. Fires always draw a crowd. 

By nightfall, the four semi-permanent ice sculptures were done, polished off, and lit up. 

Spare Keg Brewerks was filling up. Karaoke was scheduled for right after the bonfire. 

The clock wound down to 7 p.m. and people gathered to watch fire and ice live in harmony for just a little while, then battle it out. 

Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman counted everyone down and rather than in a glorious burst of flame, the fire slowly crept up the pallets toward the opening of the ice. The fire built and swelled to a flame that reached out the top of the ice six feet or more. 

As the flames burned, the ice melted. Both dwindled at a similar pace. 

In the end we ask ourselves, between fire and ice, who wins? Firefighters. The firefighters win. 

In gripping suspense, the crowd waited for the ice to topple in on itself. Before it could, the firefighters sprayed the flames down into steaming coals. This was met with boos and disdain. After the coals were safely put out and steam had filled the street, the ice was toppled with one swing of a tool. This was met with cheers and whistles. 

Sunday topped off the Rio Frio with city officials, residents, and daredevils taking a Polar Plunge.

Mayor Coleman was the first to take the plunge. As he hopped out of the ice, wet and cold, he threw out his arms and shouted, “If I can do it, you can do it!” 

Adams State University Interim President David Tandberg followed. Among the officials who jumped into the water were Alamosa County Commissioner Lori Laske, Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks, Alamosa City Councilor Dawn Krebs, Alamosa’s Economic Development dDirector Kathy Woods, Alamosa City Attorney Erich Schweisow, Fire Chief Bill Stone (who dove in head first), and 12th Judicial District Attorney Anne Kelly.

They weren’t the only ones who dove in. Nearly 30 people in all decided they needed a little wake-up call. 

runner in long stocking cap

Will Smith, 68, of Leadville, gets into the spirit of the run. 

runner in long stocking cap

Will Smith, 68, of Leadville, gets into the spirit of the run. 

AFTER it was all said and done, Alamosa Citizen spoke with Reesor about the weekend. 

“Turnout has been, probably, the best that we’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s just really great to see families come out and enjoy the weather, the nice sunny weather, in the middle of January. I know it’s really cold, but I love this festival, because it’s a great time for people to get outside during the middle of the winter when lots of people are experiencing cabin fever. It’s really good to get out and get active and just enjoy Alamosa.” 

Reesor was proud of the overall turnout and the number of people from out-of-state who were able to make the festivities. For the 5k, he mentioned, nine U.S. states were represented, which he said “is kind of unreal.” 

“City staff and volunteers and everyone really came together to put on an amazing event,” he said. 

Before Reesor finished up his thoughts, he was reminded of a very special event coming up: The Third Annual Rio Trio triathlon – happening Saturday, May 27. 

He hopes to see a good sized crowd there. We know we’ll be there.