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Picture yourself on a mountain’s flank, metres below the craggy summit, wind whipping your hair into a frenzy under your helmet as you climb slowly, but surely, towards the top of the world.
If you think this kind of experience is reserved only for seasoned mountaineers, then you probably haven’t heard of a via ferrata.
Italian for “iron road” or “iron way”, a via ferrata is a series of steel cables, ladder rungs, and other implements that are built along a mountain route to allow for safer travel. Climbers are harnessed with carabiners that clip into the cables and rungs to prevent falls.
This infrastructure means that no climbing skills or experience are required, making via ferratas quite accessible to people of all ages and skill levels.
This style of mountain climbing originated in the Alps in the mid-1800s, finding popularity in the Dolomites, where via ferratas were constructed during World War I to allow soldiers to travel along treacherous mountain routes. Today, there are more than 400 via ferratas in Italy alone, with more being built all over the world as it gains recreational appeal.
In Canada, the range of experiences available on via ferratas is extensive, from the gentle beauty of the Canadian Shield to the evergreen carpeted peaks of the Coast Mountains. To help you with your via ferrata bucket list, we’ve compiled a list of our favourites.
Keep in mind that many routes are closed for the winter, so be sure to call ahead!
1. Sea-to-Sky Gondola
Glacier-worn granite and spectacular views of Howe Sound make this newly established route a gloriously west coast experience. The Sea to Sky via ferrata includes the traditional steel rungs and cables, as well as bridges and a catwalk. It ends at the Summit Lodge, where good food, refreshing drinks and stunning views abound.
Difficulty: Beginner, suitable for children and families.
Duration: 1.5 hours
Cost: $109 per person*
2. Whistler Peak
Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures
The via ferrata up to Whistler Peak offers a smorgasbord of mountain experiences, from glacier travel to steep, exposed rock faces, to a panoramic summit view of the surrounding ranges.
Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures
Difficulty: Moderate, suitable for ages 12 and up.
Duration: 4 hours
Cost: $129 for adults, $119 for youth
3. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Located in Golden, B.C., gateway to the Rockies, the 465-metre Ascension Route at Kicking Horse Pass claims to be one of the most technical and scenic via ferratas in North America. Ascending the ridge that divides the Rocky Mountain trench and the Purcell Mountain Range, and then summiting Terminator Peak, it might just be. Kicking Horse Resort also offers a beginner route for those wanting to first test their nerves.
Difficulty: Beginner or Advanced
Duration: 2 or 4 hours
Cost: $129 or $169 for adults, $119 or $159 for youth
4. Mt. Nimbus
CMH Bobbie Burns
Gery Unterasinger courtesy of CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures
If your budget allows, there may be no better via ferrata in Canada than the one found on Mt. Nimbus.
Visitors are treated to alpine meadows and stunning vistas of the Rockies, on a route that includes a bridge suspended between two peaks, 600 metres above the valley floor. This route is the longest via ferrata in North America and no mountaineering experience is required.
Access to the Mt. Nimbus via ferrata is exclusively available through Canadian Mountain Holidays, as part of their High Flying Adventures. During summer, adventurers fly into the rustic-luxe Bobbie Burns Lodge via helicopter. Stays vary between two and six days, and the via ferrata is one of many day trips on offer.
For information about trip packages and the route itself, contact CMH.
5. Mount Norquay
Nothing quite compares to the imposing grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, and one of the best ways to experience that grandeur is high up on the rock itself.
Mt. Norquay offers three different via ferrata experiences, from a tame-yet-breathtaking beginner experience to a day-long summit trek, so you can choose the adventure that best suits you.
Difficulty: Beginner, Moderate or Advanced
Duration: 2.5, 4 or 6 hours
Cost: $139, $179 and $299 per person
6. Canyon Sainte-Anne
Quebec City Area, QC
Mountains are a little harder to come by in eastern Canada than they are out west. But canyons are another story.
Canyon Sainte-Anne is home to the first uninterrupted via ferrata constructed in Quebec, and the first uninterrupted winter via ferrata in the world. (That's a lot of firsts!) Several routes offer a heady panorama of the canyon, including a close-up experience of the Sainte-Anne Falls. Plus, this excursion is conveniently located just 16 km from downtown Quebec City.
Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced
Duration: 1.5 to 4.5 hours
Cost: $34.95 to $76.95 for adults and $31.95 to $71.95 for children and youth
7. Rivière du Diable
Mont-Tremblant National Park
Overlooking the Rivière du Diable is the Via Ferrata du Diable, or the Devil’s Via Ferrata, in Mont Tremblant National Park. The routes, ranging from beginner to advanced, offer far-as-the-eye-can-see views of the gently rolling, wooded beauty of the Southern Laurentians.
Difficulty: Beginner to Advanced, ages 8 and up.
Duration: 3 to 5 hours
Cost: $31.50 to $71.75
*Prices as of September 2016
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