JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. (AP) — Sprouting like watery vines from the top of a 40-foot-high wall built into the side of Snow King Mountain, giant columns of ice tower over people in helmets and crampons clutching ice axes.
The frozen pillars are the budding walls of the Teton Ice Park, a new project being spearheaded by Exum Mountain Guide's co-chief guide Christian Santelices.
The Teton Ice Park will offer private and group ice climbing lessons, clinics and open climbing.
Santelices said he was inspired to create an ice climbing park in Jackson Hole after seeing the success of the Ouray Ice Park in Ouray, Colo.
"The Ouray Ice Park is world-class," he said. "It brings people from all over the world."
Santelices operated an ice park at Grand Targhee Resort from 2009 to 2011. This summer, Snow King approached him about setting up one in Jackson.
He jumped at the opportunity, hoping that Jackson's mountaineering mystique coupled with the ice park would bring climbers to Jackson in the winter and provide winter work for the mountain guiding community.
"There are some amazing guides in Jackson who are not nearly as busy in the winter as they are in the summer," Santelices said.
Ice climbing in the Tetons is difficult because it is hard to access, he said. A lot of the ice routes in the Tetons are in avalanche paths or are extremely remote, which makes ice climbing hard to practice or teach.
The Teton Ice Park, on the other hand, offers ice climbing in the heart of the valley.
On a Thursday afternoon, Santelices and several friends prepared for the weekend's opening. They put up a weather port to shelter ice climbers from the cold. Overhead, 16 shower heads sprayed down on the glassy blue buttresses.
The location of the park is perfect, Santelices said. Set into the hillside behind the last row of the Love Ridge condominiums, the ice never comes in direct contact with the sun.
The 130-foot-long vertical retaining wall wraps around the northwestern aspect of the hill, tapering from 40 feet to 10 feet at its lowest point.
Santelices said the 40-foot vertical columns are very challenging, and he is attempting to build ice ramps leading up to some of them.
At its lower reaches, the wall is perfect for beginner climbers who want to practice fundamentals.
"The biggest thing is forming the ice," he said. "Getting it in a complete pillar from top to bottom. It needs a strong base for it to be safe."
All of the routes are top roped, and for safety reasons all climbers at the ice park will be required to be on belay.
A schedule of open climbing days will be posted on TetonIcePark.com.
Initially, open climbing will be held 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, 4 to 7 p.m.. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. If demand grows, the Teton Ice Park will add more days to accommodate climbers.
A single day of climbing costs $20, and a 10-day punch card will set you back $160.
Free climbers will be asked to pass a skill assessment with the on-duty guide.
Santelices' company, Aerial Boundaries, will offer private and group lessons for climbers of all levels of ability. Classes can be booked online at TetonIcePark.com or at the front desk of Snow King Resort.
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