High up on the steep, rocky slopes of Mt. Norquay is an assisted climbing route known as via ferrata.
With steel cables, rungs, and pegs bolted to the mountainside, this “iron path”, as the name translates from Italian, will have you feeling on top of the world as you climb up and across the lofty rock walls of Mt. Norquay.
Here’s a look at what you can expect when doing the via ferrata in Banff, the climbing routes you can choose from, a description of the thrilling Skyline route, plus our review of the Norquay via ferrata.
Via Ferrata in Banff- Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata Routes
Mt. Norquay is home to the only via ferrata in Banff National Park. Offering four guided routes suited to a variety of comfort levels, there’s an adventure for everyone from very beginners to intrepid explorers.
The shortest via ferrata at Mt. Norquay is the “Explorer” at 1 km and 2- 2.5 hours. Designed for those who are new to via ferrata, this introductory route heads up 145 m and crosses a suspension bridge.
The “Ridgewalker” is the full via ferrata experience with 260 m of elevation gain and more exposure as the route climbs up several buttresses and crosses a suspension bridge. This route covers 1.4 km and takes 3.5- 4 hours.
The “Skyline” route brings a whole new level of adventure with features such as a ladder, beam crossing, long suspension bridge, and traverse across a sheer rock wall. At 2.5 km and 290 m elevation gain, this route takes 4.5- 5 hours.
The longest Mt. Norquay via ferrata is the “Summiteer” at 3.2 km, 360 m elevation gain, and 5- 6 hours. This route is an extension of the Skyline, so has all of the same features plus a three-wire suspension bridge over a steep gully at the summit.
Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata- The Skyline Route
The Skyline route is an excellent choice for adventurous hikers wanting to experience some of the thrills of mountaineering, from rock climbing to exposure, but in a more secure environment.
After getting fitted with a helmet, harness, and lanyard with attached carabiners for clipping onto the safety cables, you and your ACMG-certified guide will ride the chairlift up to the Cliffhouse Bistro.
At the top of the chairlift you’ll receive some instruction from your guide about how to use the carabiners to move safely along the cable. It’s pretty straightforward- clip both carabiners onto the cable, walk or climb to the next anchor, unhook one carabiner and fasten it to the next section of cable, then do the same for the second. This way you will always have one carabiner hooked to the cable, but most the time both will be attached.
At the top of the chairlift there’s a practice wall where your guide will give you some instruction and let you try out what you’ve learned. Just like on the real via ferrata, there are iron rungs, pegs, and rocks that you can use for footings and handholds.
Once everyone has completed the practice course, it’s time to head out on the Skyline route.
There’s a short uphill hike to the first via ferrata climbing section and along the way you get to see parts of the mountain you’ll be scaling, a suspension bridge, and the steep slopes of the mountain face. The scenery does a great job of building excitement for what’s to come.
After some regular hiking, you’ll clip onto the cable and continue walking up the rocky mountain. This section of assisted hiking gives you some more opportunities to get comfortable clipping and unclipping the carabiners before having to climb and be exposed to precipitous drops.
Once you reach the climbing section, the real fun of via ferrata begins. Now instead of just steep hiking, you’ll be using iron rungs and pegs to climb and move across the mountain face.
Eventually you’ll come to a part of the route that has an almost vertical climb into a tight space between rocks. If you’re wearing a backpack, it’ll likely rub on the rock as you climb up the rungs.
Near the top, you have to clamber out of this small space by reaching right onto the outer, exposed side of the rock to finish the climb up.
Next up, you’ll be traversing across a steep wall of rock where you’ll be able to enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding peaks. It’s quite thrilling to be standing on the side of a mountain, in a place inaccessible by hiking, and have a bird’s eye view of Banff’s beautiful scenery.
As you maneuver across the mountainside, you’ll eventually come to one of the most exciting, butterfly-inducing elements of Norquay’s via ferrata- the ladder.
The ladder is secured to an exposed cliff and to climb it you have to place yourself between the rock wall and the ladder, looking out at the clouds as you pull yourself up the rungs.
For some people the ladder can be quite a hair-raising experience, a mental-challenge even, and for that reason it’s one of the most memorable parts of the Skyline via ferrata at Norquay.
Once you conquer the ladder, the thrills aren’t over yet. There’s still a wooden beam to cross and more mountainsides to scale.
You’ll continue to make your way up and across the face of the mountain, eventually arriving at a two-wire bridge.
This “tightrope” is stretched between rocks and to cross it you shuffle your feet sideways along the wire, holding onto the cable above for support.
Soon after the tightrope, you’ll arrive at a spot near the suspension bridge where you can have a snack or quick lunch.
After lunch it’s time to cross the suspension bridge, another main highlight of the via ferrata in Banff.
At 55 m long, this narrow suspension bridge has some sway to it, making it all the more fun to walk across.
From this point on you’ll begin the final ascent to the ridge, which is the summit of the Skyline route. Much like before, there are more rock walls to cross and slopes to climb.
Once you reach the ridge, if it’s a clear day you’ll be able to enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding area including Cascade Mountain, Mt. Rundle, and the town of Banff. You’ll also be near the east summit of Mt. Norquay, where the Summiteer route continues on to.
The final portion of the Skyline via ferrata involves more hiking, as you’ll be walking along the ridge then down into a scenic gully on route to the chairlift. It’s steep and there is some loose rock, but the guides go slowly to minimize the chance of slipping.
During the hike back to the chairlift, keep your eye out for bighorn sheep, as they are known to hang out on the mountain.
The tour ends at the Cliffhouse Bistro where you can enjoy some food and drinks before taking the chairlift back down to the base of the mountain. It’s the perfect spot to celebrate your accomplishments and reminisce about all the adventurous moments on Banff’s via ferrata!
Review of the Mt. Norquay Via Ferrata in Banff National Park
The via ferrata at Norquay is one of the best things to do in Banff, especially if you have an adventurous spirit. Not only is it a fun way to challenge yourself, you get to experience views rarely seen by other visitors, since the area is not accessible by hiking.
Elements like the ladder, tightrope, and suspension bridge add some extra interest to the routes and make awesome vantage points for admiring the scenery.
By nature, via ferrata involves a lot of steep terrain so if you don’t have a head for heights, it can be intimidating. Being clipped onto the cable takes away some of the feelings of danger, but you still have to be responsible for your own safety. It’s important to stay focused on your footing, balance, and keeping your carabiners attached.
If you’re looking for a unique activity in Banff and want to dip your toes into climbing, then the via ferrata at Norquay is a fantastic choice.
Tips for Doing the Via Ferrata in Banff
Location: The via ferrata is located on the cliffs above the Mt. Norquay Ski Resort near the town of Banff.
Getting There: From downtown Banff, get on Mt. Norquay Road and follow that across the Trans-Canada Highway and up the switchbacks to the ski resort. It’s about a 15 minute drive.
- Check-in for the via ferrata is at the North American Lodge at the top of Mt. Norquay Road.
Operating Hours: The via ferrata at Mt. Norquay operates 7 days a week from mid-June to the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (weather permitting). The Skyline and Summiteer routes have a slightly shorter season, closing near the end of September.
- For up to date hours and route schedules, visit this page.
Gear/What to Bring: It’s required to have sturdy hiking footwear with good grips (the staff will inspect your boots when you check in). If you don’t have proper hiking boots, Norquay will provide rentals free of charge.
- Come prepared for a variety of weather conditions with warm layers and waterproof outerwear. The tours will still go in the rain, but not in extreme weather.
- Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, water, snacks, a camera, and small backpack.
- Thin gloves with grips will be lent to you by Norquay. Other items such as rain gear and backpacks are available for loan free of charge, on a first come first serve basis.
- Harnesses, lanyards, and helmets are provided so you don’t need to bring any special climbing gear.
Facilities: The American Lodge at the base of the mountain has washrooms. The Cliffhouse Bistro at the top of the chairlift has food, drinks, and washrooms. There are no facilities along the via ferrata routes.
Visitor Guidelines and Safety: The minimum age for the Norquay via ferrata is 12 years old for the Explorer and Ridgewalker routes and 14 years for the Skyline and Summiteer routes. The minimum weight is 40 kg (88 lbs).
- All participants must be accompanied by one of Norquay’s ACMG-certified guides. Even if you have a lot of via ferrata experience you won’t be allowed on the routes without a guide and must stick with the tour group.
- Group size is 8 people per guide.
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