The Bozeman Ice Tower: A Chat with Conrad Anker

Since Ice Climbing’s introduction to the United States in the late 20th century, Bozeman has been known as a premier destination. Long winters, copious amounts of naturally occurring, top-quality ice routes, and a thriving winter culture all work together to form and foster the future of the rapidly growing sport.

Although popular in Europe, there isn’t a single community in the United States that has a UIAA (“Union Internationale des Associations D’Alpinisme”, or “International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation”) sanctioned structure for athletes to practice and compete on. So, when ice climbing was slated to be a demonstration sport in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, it was only natural for Bozeman’s ice climbing population to react.

In January of 2011, The North Face Ice Climbing’s team captain and Bozeman resident Conrad Anker, along with MSU architecture professor Mike Everts, called on current and former MSU architecture and engineering students to submit design proposals for a multi-use facility featuring a World Cup-level climbing structure to be built at The Gallatin County Fairgrounds.

“I see the fairgrounds as a diamond in the rough within the city,” explains Anker. “We have an opportunity with this ten-or-so acres to really turn it into something special. The center piece of this would be the concert venue and climbing structure that’s made out of side-cycled shipping containers and old Bridger Bowl lift towers.”

Seven different ideas were submitted and considered in the contest. According to Anker the winning design was one that best realized the whole picture. “The winning design—they really did their homework. They looked closely at what the fairgrounds needed. It’s a multi-purpose structure. We can form ice on it when the weather permits, and most of the ice climbing will be on the overhanging section, as will the rock climbing [in the summer]. The other uses in the winter would be a figure skating rink and curling sheet in the mosh pit area of the concert venue, because both ice rinks at the fairgrounds right now are designed and used for hockey. They’re in use from five in the morning until 11 at night. The only place you can do figure skating and things like that is Beall park on the south side, but that’s very weather dependent.”  

The Gallatin County Fairgrounds lie on county property within Bozeman city limits. It’s part of the county budget, the county administrative system, and is staffed by county employees. Being the case, the allocation of public funds and resources in relation to the Bozeman Ice Tower project is obviously a public concern. This isn’t a typical public park proposal, though, and nobody is asking for any public money.

“This is my dream child; I’m the motivator behind it that’s getting it going. Having worked with the county, I’ve realized that there’s no way we’d ever pass a mill levy for this, so it’s going to be a private investment entity.” explains Anker. “For half the price of what we paid for the football stadium seats, which get used six or seven days a year, we have something that’s going to be used for probably 40 concerts throughout the course of the year, climbing that everybody can do year-round, a facility for the search and rescue and fire teams to train on, and it’s going to be accessible to adaptive sports, too. The company that comes in is going to have naming rights for something that is entirely unique to the whole world. No one has anything close to anything like this. In terms of earned media, I’d have to sit down to quantify that.”

Currently the Gallatin County Fairgrounds serves as a venue for ice hockey and the agriculture-based activities and events that originally founded the space. But as Bozeman’s demographic changes, so does the need for different types of recreational facilities in order for the fairgrounds to be economically viable.

“The county wants the fairgrounds to be a stand-alone; to not have it receive county funds. They want it to operate like a business. If you’re in business, you need to market and sell your product or services. So what are we going to do to bring that in there? There’s only so many 4-H type activities that we can do, and they are a smaller group. What will appeal to a larger group is this concert venue”, says Anker.

Right now, classic hurdles are standing in the way of the Bozeman Ice Tower’s construction: money, bureaucracy, and a few difficult citizens, Anker said: “We have two individuals that are actively-anti for sound reasons, but their sound reasons, it turns out, are more about the type of music rather than the decibel of the sound. It’s good, though, we’re learning our weaknesses.”

The Bozeman Ice Tower has 501(c)(3) designation, and everything in the project’s bank account up to this point are the proceeds from Conrad’s various slide shows, though he’s quick to explain that he isn’t a motivational speaker. “Every now and then, I get a speaking gig. Not like a corporate speaker, that’s too gross. I’m not like, ‘Get a grip!’. There are a lot of people that are like, ‘I just climbed Everest, now I’m a corporate speaker!’ They’re just rubber duckies. I’m a full-time climber.”

Besides donating funds to The Bozeman Ice Tower, those who want to support the project can follow the project on Facebook and write letters to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, or if you’re a student, you can talk to MSU’s faculty about helping through academic projects.  

-Alex Buecking
For more information, visit: bozemanicetower.wordpress.com

The Ice Tower will be designed as a multi-purpose facility. Here’s a list of a few benefits that will enrich the community of Bozeman.

1.) Outdoor concerts (Well known bands will actually stop in our town)
2.) Outdoor Events (Ski Movie premieres, non-profit parties)
3.) Rescue Training
4.) Eagle Mount Adaptive Sports
5.) Big Sky Youth Empowerment activities
6.) Figure Skating and Curling
7.) Community Garden Space
8.) Flexible Office Space
9.) Youth Sports (Camps, Events, Retreats)

Public Benefits
1. Iconic Branding Opportunity
2. Reflective of Fairgrounds History
3. FEMA Use
4. Public Observation Deck
5. Telecommunications Rental
6. Community Gardens
7. Promotes Fairgrounds Growth
8. Model of “Best Practices” Building
a. Solar Generation
b. Rain Water Collection
c. Up-Cycle use of Local Resources
d. Bridger Lift Towers
9. Privately Funded
10. Self-Sustaining Business Model

Get Involved and let’s make it official. Stay classy Bozeman. - Bomb Snow

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