The requirements for this ice wall were daunting.
- Install a temporary structure.
- Construct it in the 100-year old Greek Amphitheater in downtown Denver.
- Design and engineer it without structural drawings for what lay below the construction surface.
- Make a wall of ice without guaranteed below-freezing-temps.
- And build it in just 6 days, outdoors, in the winter.
Eldorado Climbing Walls accepted the challenge and delivered climbing terrain for the 2019 UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup in Denver…flawlessly.
“No question, this wall was unique,” observed Vickie Hormuth, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the American Alpine Club (AAC). “Of all the wall builders we talked to, Eldorado was the only company willing to take on the challenge of a designing and building a structure that had never been made before. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. Eldo is on the cutting edge.”
Planning began with the AAC, the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), City of Denver, and Eldorado’s engineering firm in August 2018.
“To pull this off we created a brand new system specifically for this event,” commented Jason Thomas, Design Director for Eldorado. “To keep the structure lightweight, maximize the ability to distribute loads, and meet the competition requirements, we opted for a system based on scaffolding rather than a welded, steel frame. It also shortened the install times and help keep the project within a very tight budget.” The approved design included reinforced, coated, engineered plywood attached to scaffolding configured as a 50’ tall x 40’ wide arch.
Then there was the wall of ice. A 40’ tall x 10’ wide vertical sheet of ice needed to be created and attached to the climbing structure…in a city that does not have guaranteed freezing temperatures.
“Have you watched Red Bull’s ‘Crashed Ice’ events where massive, elevated tracks of ice that resemble rollercoasters are created for a few days in major cities? The technology used to make that ice was a possible solution for our ice challenge,” notes Vickie. “But, the system had never been used to create perfectly vertical terrain. This was untried territory.”
Eldorado’s team reached out to the firm that worked with Red Bull, AST from Austria. For the competition wall in Denver, AST placed glycol mats in trays made from 4’ x 8’ plywood framed with 2x6s into which they added water. After a few days, the ice slabs we almost ready. “To enhance the texture of the ice, so it wasn’t just a perfectly smooth sheet, Stefan from AST recommended that we add bags of crushed ice to the surface,“ comments Skylar Pais, Foreman for the installation. “Two pallets of ice cubes went a long way to developing a slightly bumpy texture that the climbers want.” In the end, six 2,500 lbs. blocks of ice were raised by forklifts and attached to the scaffolding that made one of the supporting pillars for the arch.
The final piece to the whole puzzle was supporting the routesetters as they showcased their art on the canvas Eldorado provided. As it happened, the lead routesetter who had helped with concepts for the structure and developed the route plans could not make it into the U.S. due to challenges getting a visa during the U.S Government shutdown. As a result, two extremely experienced setters arrived to work on the wall sight-unseen. They had to improvise and so did the Eldorado team to help them bring their vision to light very quickly. Within less than 24 hours, the setters and Eldo devised new ways to mount several of the free-hanging elements, called ‘eskimos’, into fixed positions jutting out from the top of the arch. The our team worked on engineering in almost real-time. The routes were ready for the competition to begin.
During the course of two days of competition, over 24,000 people came to watch, with 10,000 present for the lead finals. The vertical ice stayed solid, never once flexing like an ice cube tray. The giant arch never even showed a shimmy, even when the winner of the men’s lead competition climbed out on the majestic ‘rhino horn’ and dove off the structure as his dismount.