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RANGELY I Headed up the hill on College Drive, south of Highway 64 in Rangely, you don’t have to travel far to notice a huge monolith of ice on the right as you enter the campus of Colorado Northwestern Community College.
Looking like a high-flying water leak that froze or an ice sculpture that hasn’t been carved, the CNCC ice tower has existed for years but is now being used as a teaching aid with plans to eventually open the monolith to area residents to give them a chance to scale the tower.
When John Whipple, the outdoor leadership coordinator and challenge course manager at CNCC, was hired last summer, he was informed that he would be building the ice tower, something he freely admits to knowing nothing about at the time.
“I was totally new to ice farming,” Whipple said. “When I arrived at CNCC, they told me I needed to build an ice tower.
“I went down to Ouray and made friends with the ice park manager there,” he said. “He gave me some tips and pointers, then, along with help of Todd Ward, the ice climbing instructor and my ice climbing teacher, we revamped the ice tower this year, making it more sturdy.”
This year, Steve Lowe of SLOWECO fabricated a new base and cap for the sturdier tower, Whipple said, adding that without that help it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as easy to erect the tower this year.
“I am teaching my work-study students how to belay and maintain safety on the ice tower and am now offering ice climbing to our students,” Whipple said. “I would like to expand the offering to community members as well, but I have not gauged the interest yet. I also have a plan to offer a community education course in ice climbing for the people of Rangely and the surrounding communities.”
The skeleton of the ice tower is 40 feet of ROHN 55G radio tower that has been guy-wired to three anchors. Other substrate and clutter have been added for the ice to grown on, he said.
“The clutter and substrate are key; without something for the ice to cling to, it won’t grow,” Whipple said. “It is really cool because essentially we can shape the tower however we want.”
Water and electric power were run to the top of the tower, and Whipple and Ward built the varying sprayer systems that are insulated and wrapped in heat tape.
Ward devised a system that uses a rotating sprinkler head attached so there are 360 degrees of water coverage, Whipple said.
“We also spray water from the ground, using pressure washer nozzles we attach to our hoses,” he said. “That way we can place water where we want and grow ice where were want to.”
Temperatures have been and continue to be a major factor in the success of the ice tower, Whipple said, adding that it has been quite a task this year with warmer-than-normal temperatures overall.
“Ice does not form until it drops to at least 27 degrees Fahrenheit or minus-2 degrees Celsius,” he said. “Yes, 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 degrees Celsius are freezing temperatures, but not cold enough to start making ice.
“It is a strange science, as you can actually super-cool water and have subfreezing temperatures in the water, but it can still be liquid,” he said. “Weird, right? I am learning all this for the first time and I was just as shocked as you or your readers.”
Water is only run in the evening, when temperatures are lower, he said.
“The sun also plays a major role in terms of what the ice is like; the sunny side is very different than our non-sunny side,” Whipple said. “It is also cool because we can show the students how the sunlight directly affects the ice.”
Whipple said several improvements are hoped for in the future.
“I would like to 1) add a flow meter to the system and measure how much water we throw on the tower; and 2) add Snomax to our water,” he said. “Snowax is a naturally occurring organism that helps ice freeze. Snowax is what all the ski resorts add to the water to make snow so early and late in the season, when temperatures are higher.
“Snomax would also allow us to make more ice earlier and keep the ice longer, thus extending our ice-climbing season,” Whipple said.
He said he would also like to apply for grants from Get Outdoors Colorado (part of the Colorado Lottery) and see if the college can expand its winter offerings of ice climbing, snowshoeing, sledding and cross-country skiing.
“Could you imagine snow machines in Rangely during the really cold times and having a winter park for students and community members?” Whipple asked. “There is a lot of potential for more winter activities in Rangely.”