Conrad Anker plans big. The legendary mountaineer has taken on some of the most technical climbs on the globe, from near-vertical ascents in the Himalayas to the wind-battered peaks of Mount Everest. This time around, the 39-year-old is setting his sights on a closer summit: He aims to build an 84-foot-tall ice-climbing tower unlike any in North America, less than a mile from Main Street in his hometown of Bozeman.
“We’re getting everything squared away,” Anker says of the plan. “It’s going to be really unique.”
To make the plan a reality, Anker is working with multiple partners, including Montana State University students and faculty and climbing experts like Joe Josephson, who’s written two books detailing Montana’s best climbing routes.
Ice climbing is most popular in Europe and Asia, but because North America doesn’t have a year-round facility to accommodate world-class athletes, the sport has been limited here. An ice-climbing demonstration at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, will give the sport’s public profile a boost, but in order to earn an ongoing Olympic slot, World Cup-level competition venues must be erected on every continent. That’s where the Bozeman tower comes in.
“It’s a key step toward then getting one step closer to being accepted as a medal sport, which is the goal down the road,” Josephson says.
During summers, the Bozeman tower would offer traditional climbing opportunities. The design also allows the facility to double as a live entertainment venue, with seating inside the tower capable of accommodating roughly 2,500 people. When Anker pitched the idea to the Gallatin County commissioners in September, he emphasized the economic benefit of making Bozeman even more of a recreation and entertainment destination. If the commissioners sign off on the project, Anker says, the tower team will ramp up a private capital campaign to fund it. He estimates the project will cost $3 million.