Targhee gets ice flow
Founders overcome obstacles while building new Teton Ice Park at Grand Targhee.
By Brandon Zimmerman, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: December 16, 2009
Everyone knows you need cold weather to make ice. Christian Santelices learned, however, that there is such a thing as too cold. As in pipe-bursting, below-zero cold.
Santelices experienced this first-hand earlier this month when sub-zero overnight temperatures caused two pipes to crack while farming ice at his new Teton Ice Park at Grand Targhee Resort.
“I’ve learned a lot about cold-weather plumbing,” Santelices said. “I didn’t anticipate it would be as challenging as it’s been.”
Santelices, an internationallyi certified guide and Exum Mountain Guide’s Chief Guide, has overcome plenty of challenges to complete what is believed to be the only ice climbing park at a ski resort in the United States.
His dream was realized Sunday when Santelices climbed on the KB Wall for the first time. The park, located on cliffs known as the Parking Lot Rocks, is set to open to the public on Saturday. It is 100 feet wide and 100 feet tall with 40 feet of advanced vertical climbing combined with 60 feet of lower angle, broken terrain ideal for learning the sport.
It’s already getting good reviews.
“When I went there the first time it looked a lot better than the picture I had in my mind,” said fellow Exum guide Ben Gilmore, who helped Santelices build the park. “The cliff is cool. It’s a very exciting spot. A lot of steep ice to play around on. I think it’s going to be a really good venue.”
Santelices says the park will be a major addition to the local climbing community, which lacks good ice climbing in natural settings.
“There is not easily accessible ice climbing here,” he said. “Everything is in avalanche paths and has long hikes in. So I thought, ‘Heck, what can we do around here.’”
Of course, the construction of the park has been more arduous than Santelices could have ever imagined. Santelices modeled the park after Ouray Ice Park in Ouray, Colo.
His first obstacle was Targhee’s lack of accessible water for the project. To solve that issue, Santelices secured a 3,000-gallon water tanker truck from MD Nursery and Landscaping in Driggs, Idaho. The truck was filled with water purchased from the city of Driggs and driven up Ski Hill Rd. to the resort.
The water was then run into above-ground pipes which lead to low-flow shower heads that sprayed water over the cliffs. That caused the waterfall feature to slowly form.
The ice farming process, meanwhile, began on Nov. 29. It was about that time when an unseasonably cold snap settled over the region, sending night time temperatures well below zero. On Dec. 5, the frigid weather cracked two galvanized pipes. Santelices had to take the pipes apart and let them thaw out in a neighbor’s garage near his home in Victor, Idaho. The freeze-up put the ice-making project on hold for several days.
“If you don’t keep the water pressure going all the time, or if you don’t have enough outflow, then things freeze,” Santelices said. “That’s what happened. It’s safe to say we’re learning a lot.”
The main wall is called the KB Wall, named after one of Santelices’ mentors, Kevin Brown, of Santa Barbara, Calif., Brown took Santelices on his first ice climb over 20 years ago before passing away in November after a difficult bout with cancer.
The wall provides the easiest access to ice climbing in the Tetons and has something for all climbing levels. It is operated under a permit from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
In addition to the logistics of building the park, Santelices has also been busy working the business end of the project. The cost of the park is expected to be about $10,000. Santelices has already secured a $2,000 sponsorship from Marmot, and has also secured sponsorships from Exum Mountain Guides, Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and Rain for Rent. The park will be free to the public, but Santelices is asking for users to purchase a $40 membership to support the park.
Santelices and other guides, which include Teton Mountaineering manager Maddy Shafter, will give individual and group lessons, for pricing visit www.aerialboundaries.com.
“For us the sponsorships and memberships are important,” Santelices said. “We want this to be a long-term sustainable amenity that everybody can use. We’re psyched to offer that to the public and in order for that we need support from the community to keep it running.”
Santelices hasn’t worked alone on the project. He’s gotten support from friends and colleagues, including Gilmore.
“I think that’s one thing that lacks here in the winter is ice climbing that is accessible,” Gilmore said. “It’s tough to add a two-hour approach in the snow then climb. You can get on the ice for a lot more time here.”
Now that all the hard work is done, it’s time for Santelices and others to enjoy the park. Santelices expects the park to be well received by valley residents.
“It’s a really great amenity and great thing for local guides,” he said. “Many local guides, who don’t get much work in the winter, will be working for me teaching ice climbing classes.
“It’s just another cool fun thing for folks to do. A lot of people don’t get to [ice climb] because access is difficult. It’s another amenity people in this area can point to as great recreation spot.”