Have you ever climbed a mountain? Not hiked it, but actually climbed it? You can in Banff National Park at the Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay. Via Ferrata is an assisted climbing activity just outside the town of Banff, Canada. If you’ve ever fancied going mountaineering or rock climbing (but were too scared to try), this is the activity for you.
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Banff Via Ferrata
First, the basics. You’re probably wondering as I was, what Via Ferrata means. It’s Italian for iron road. During the war years, they fastened iron rungs to the mountain face, forging a trail so troops could quickly get through the Alps. It’s a popular activity in Europe, but there are precious few Via Ferratas in Canada. Luckily, there’s now one outside the town of Banff.
Mount Norquay Via Ferrata
Several Via Ferrata routes are open at Mount Norquay each summer. If you can climb a ladder, you can so do this. It’s like getting all the thrills and views typically reserved for elite climbers, but with all the safety features. You have to wear a helmet, harness and lanyard, which connects you to the iron cable. Don’t have all the gear? Don’t worry! Mount Norquay provides guests with boots, a rain jacket, rain pants and even a backpack if you don’t have one. You can walk in off the street and still be able to do it. Snacks and water (and other beverages) can be purchased on-site before your climb.
You clip your carabiner into the cable, then you climb. Clip, climb, clip, climb. Easy peasy, just like that. Here’s a few pictures to give you a better idea of what it’s like.
Out of all the activities I’ve done in Banff in the past two decades, this was definitely the one that gave me the biggest adrenaline rush. I ski and snowboard. I’m into hiking and pretty much all the adventurous activities (with the exception of downhill mountain biking), but a Via Ferrata course tests you in a different way. It’s as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. It’s also an excellent way to explore the mountains close to Banff without the crowds. Consider it amped up hiking. It’s certainly way more fun.
Banff Family Activities
Yep, this is one of Banff’s best family activities. Children can tackle the Via Ferrata if they meet the age, height and weight restrictions. Kids over 12-years old can do the Explorer and Ridgewalker routes so long as they’re over 35kg (77lbs). You must be over 14 years-old to do the Skyline and Summiteer routes. It’s a total rush for kids, even if they’re not into hiking. It challenges them and they may feel slightly scared, but I doubt they’ll let you know it.
After your climb, you’ll want to reward yourself. Stop at the Cliffhouse Bistro before taking the gondola back down. It’s got the best views of any of the restaurants in Banff. Even if you don’t do Via Ferrata, you can still take the gondola up to this restaurant. Cliffhouse is pretty cool. Not only will be feasting on views of Banff National Park, but also top notch Rocky Mountain fare. This restaurant is so not what I was expecting at a tourism attraction. Best is, they’ve honoured the legacy of building (it used to be a tea house in the 50s) with a-mazing tea cocktails!
The negroni with blueberry rooibus is deliciously potent. I was totally feeling the mint tea mojito
splashed doused with rum. For eats, we tucked into tacos. Well, actually gorditas, but they’re similar to tacos and chock full of meat, veg and sauces, served up with house-made potato chips and salad.
Afterwards I was spent. All that fresh mountain air. The climb. The cocktails! Could there be a more perfect ending to a summer’s day? Actually, yes. On the gondola ride down we spotted deer nestled in a patch of wildflowers. AND there big horned sheep grazing at the side of the road on the drive down Mt. Norquay. You’ll feel like you’re winning at Canada with all these experiences.
Have you been mountaineering or rock climbing (outside of a gym)? What’s your favourite adrenaline inducing activity?