By Tyler Allen Explorebigsky.com Staff Writer

BOZEMAN – Southwest Montana has long been an adventure destination. The exceptional skiing, world-renowned trout streams, and abundance of natural frozen waterfalls in Hyalite Canyon attract recreationalists from around the world. A 75-foot-tall ice climbing tower proposed for the Gallatin County Fairgrounds would bolster that status, and also add a major concert venue – something Bozeman lacks.

“Bozeman has lacked big ideas since the national rodeo left town [in the late ‘90s],” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Krauss, an outspoken supporter of the project. “This would put us on the map and be a landmark from the interstate. I think it fits with how we’ve evolved as a community and the natural resources we have.”

The structure would be one-of-a kind in the western hemisphere, and it would mean more than just tourism and recreation for Bozeman, said Conrad Anker, a Bozeman-based alpinist who’s one of the lead organizers. It would be a training facility for Gallatin Search and Rescue, a rock climbing wall in summer, and a concert venue with a capacity for 2,000 to 3,000 people.

The intent was to have it built in time to host the 2013 UIAA World Cup of Ice Climbing, an event that’s never been held in North America. However, that’s probably not realistic, Anker said, “unless someone stepped in with the money tomorrow and [we] could start on it.”

The facility is projected to cost $4-5 million, the first $2.5-3 million for construction, and the rest for an endowment that would generate interest for upkeep, Anker said.

The sport of ice climbing is growing both in Montana and worldwide.

The Bozeman Ice Festival, now in its 16th year, draws an international crowd to the Gallatin Valley each December. This year’s event will be Dec. 5-9, and festival organizer Joe Josephson expects at least 2,000 attendees, between the clinics and evening entertainment. This crowd of climbers also has their eyes on the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia where mixed climbing will be a demonstration sport for the very first time.

“We have great ice climbing here, some of the best in the Lower 48, and we should showcase that,” Anker said. “You have to play to your strengths. This would get people from all over the world here.”

He stressed the importance of having a competition venue for ice climbing, as compared to competing in a natural setting, which can be dangerous, “since you bring the testosterone and intensity into the mountains, where there are so many other factors.”

Tate Chamberlin, owner of Chamberlin Productions in Bozeman and a supporter of the project, says the community needs a music venue.

“Developing festivals, venues and a culture [of music] help create sustainability for communities… People would move here for it, go to school here because of it. It would give Bozeman a pretty big head start launching into the 21st century.”

Chamberlin plans to conduct sound tests for noise prior to the Avalaunch Festival at the fairgrounds, Nov. 8-10. Noise and traffic are major concerns coming from neighbors and community members opposed to the ice tower project.

“The best thing we can do is open up discussion with citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods and hear their concerns,” he said.

The noise issue should be addressed by the venue’s orientation, which will face north for the best ice production, according to fairgrounds manager Sue Shockley. “The noise will naturally go that direction where there are no neighbors.”

Ultimately, Shockley said, the fairgrounds’ master plan is to move the main entrance from Tamarack to Oak Street, addressing the traffic issue, as well.

“It’s going to be such a cool thing for our whole area,” she said. “Having events at the fairgrounds has such a positive impact on the community, people and businesses. It will happen, as long as we can answer all the questions the community has.”

MSU architecture students Michael Spencer and Tymer Tilton, together with engineering student PJ Kolnik, won a design competition for the structure in March 2011 and have since worked with Nishkian Monks Engineering on design development. The infrastructure design is now completed, and the School of Architecture is working on the climbing surface, said architecture professor Michael Everts, who’s helped coordinate the process.

The proposed structure would be built out of eight re-purposed steel shipping containers, have rainwater collection on the roof to grow the ice, and solar panels to produce some of the electricity.

“We have a young and vibrant town, full of athletic people who also appreciate music,” Krauss said. “We need an outdoor venue that could hold events appealing to a wide range of musical events: jazz, electronica, classical, rap. This is how we keep the fairgrounds vital. Now it’s all about fundraising.”