JACKSON HOLE - 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 offers 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 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.
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.