Experience Mount Norquay a new way this summer: on the Via Ferrata!
On the cliffs above Mount Norquay’s Sightseeing Chairlift, mountaineers scale cliffs without assistance and cross airy bridges to reach breathtaking viewpoints. The Via Ferrata, Italian for Iron Road, makes such travel across rugged, alpine terrain possible – and safe. Metal hand- and foot-holds bolted to rock faces allow ascents of vertical pitches and traverses of gnarly terrain without rock-climbing experience or a belayer. Instead of a rope, adventurers are attached to the mountain via a thick, metal cable that can support 40,000 kilograms (or 80 moose!).
To keep you safe and on the right track – there are several routes to choose from – every Via Ferrata group is led by an ACMG-certified mountain guide. With a wealth of knowledge on local biology, geography, and history; first aid training; and climbing experience, your guide is equipped to help you have the best experience possible.
Partnership Disclosure: Mount Norquay generously hosted me for review purposes, but all words and opinions are my own.
Before heading up the chairlift, Jazz Hamm, my guide for the day, outfits me with safety gear. A climbing helmet, harness, and lanyards with locking carabiners are mandatory, while gloves are optional but recommended since we’ll be opening and closing those carabiners thousands of times.
Next, Jazz checks my hiking boots (old boots don’t grip the rock well; if you need loaners, Mount Norquay can provide some), confirms I’ve brought a snack and extra layers, and asks how much water I’ve brought. Since it’s 29 C, she recommends bringing another litre which ends up being a good call.
Pro Tip: Arrive about 30 minutes early to check in, hit the bathroom (there are no facilities on the Via Ferrata route), and gear up.
Mount Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift
The adventure begins with a ride on the Mount Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift. In 8-minutes, we soar to an elevation of 2,103 metres / 6,900 feet. During the ride, I learn that Jazz works at Mount Norquay as a ski instructor in the winter, and just started guiding the Via Ferrata in 2021. It’s clear to see she loves living in Banff and working here. “Every day I climb a mountain!” she says with a big smile. And what a mountain it is! From Mount Norquay, there are awesome views of Cascade Mountain, Mount Rundle, Mount Assiniboine, and the Bow Valley.
There’s a training wall at the top of the chairlift where you can get acquainted with via ferrata hand and footholds, and using locking carabiners. Jazz calls the small holds “gas pedals”, and encourages me to “Do the can can” (turn sideways and swing one leg from one gas pedal to the next) when traversing a rock face. I give it a go and find it’s a lot quicker than facing the rock – and you get a better view too!
Next is the “rock talk” where I’m reminded to be aware of where I’m putting my feet and to yell “Rock!” if I accidentally kick any down. Bighorn sheep and mountain goats don’t do that, which is why staff radio in wildlife sightings.
Mount Norquay Via Ferrata – Skyline Route
The aptly-named Skyline Route leads to a scenic ridgetop with panoramic views just below the summit. Over the next 4.5-5 hours, we will hike and climb 2.5 kilometres and gain 310 metres of elevation. When I ask Jazz what her favorite part of the route is, she says “The suspension bridge. It’s so long and the view is so beautiful… it’s fun bouncing on it too!” As I cross the 55 metre / 180 feet long bridge later, I have to agree it’s really cool, but don’t dare to bounce as hard as Jazz did!
At a trail junction past the Soul Slabs (fun climbing section), we stop to let a herd of bighorn sheep pass. They run effortlessly across the slope, and leap over stumps in their way. I wonder what they think of us with all our gear, moving at a fraction of their speed. Not like I’m in any hurry to get off the mountain though. It’s a beautiful day and I have a private tour!
It doesn’t take long to get into the rhythm of clipping and unclipping from the cable at each bolt (one at a time so I’m always connected to the cable), but there are still sections that make my heart thump faster. Thankfully Jazz is always close by with words of support. While some find the narrow beam and swaying suspension bridge scariest; for me, it’s the lofty ladder facing out over nothing. I white-knuckle my way to the top and breathe a small sigh of relief when I’m clipped back on to the cliffside cable. “You didn’t make any kind of scared noises,” Jazz says. “My heart was!” I reply. It was thrilling in a roller coaster sort of way, but definitely not for the faint of heart.
“Has anyone ever had to turn back?” I inquire as I picture heli-evacuations off the mountain. It has happened (rarely) and “I have a rope if someone is in dire need,” Jazz shares. However, being lowered by rope or long-lined by a helicopter is far more terrifying than the via ferrata course, so guides usually call for backup, provide some gentle encouragement, and find an easier/shorter way down.
At the ridgetop, we stop for lunch and enjoy the views and solitude. With the other groups on the south side of the mountain, we have a private picnic spot! Even with smoky skies, the skyline is dramatic and beautiful, and at 2,400 metres, we’re too high above the highway to hear any cars.
The descent is quicker than the way up, and offers new sights to see since the trail is a loop (more like a wonky figure eight). Before we reach the bottom, Jazz turns and asks “Do you recognize that?” When she points out the crazy cliff we can-canned across, I feel proud of me – even if I was kind of cheating.
If you love mountains, but aren’t a climber, you will love the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata! It’s the best way for non-climbers to experience more challenging alpine terrain (though climbers enjoy it too). I can’t wait to bring my kids when they’re big enough!
Enjoy lunch with a view at Cliffhouse Bistro before or after your Mount Norquay Via Ferrata adventure. Built in the 1950s, the retro-styled bistro serves all day brunch and lunch made with local ingredients, plus local craft brews and cocktails mixed with award-winning locally made spirits. The generously sized charcuterie platter is perfect for sharing with a friend or two.
For details, read our story: Ride the Mount Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift and Dine at Cliffhouse Bistro.
Know Before You Go
- Mount Norquay’s Via Ferrata routes may be accessed via guided tours only. Choose from 2-8 hour routes (the shortest routes allow kids 12 & up who weight at least 40 kg / 88 lbs). Explore the routes here.
- No climbing experience is necessary, but the tours are not recommended if you have an extreme fear of heights. Tip: If you’re nervous the more adventurous routs might be too much for you, try the 2-hour Explorer Route, or book a private Via Ferrata Tour.
- The Skyline Route is 2.5 kilometres round trip with 310 metres of elevation gain and takes 4.5 – 5 hours.
- For Summer 2021, the Skyline Route is offered at 9 am and 10:30 am 7 days a week.
- Minimum 14 years of age and minimum 40 kg (88 lbs)
- Cost: $290 per person (includes 10% off at Cliffhouse Bistro)
What to Bring
Bring a backpack with a light jacket and rain jacket, 2 litres of water, a snack, sunscreen, sunglasses, and your camera/Go Pro (a few helmets have GoPro mounts). Good hiking boots are required.
If you don’t have the required gear, Mount Norquay can rent you a backpack, boots, and jacket at no extra charge. Items are available on a first come, first served basis.
Mount Norquay is located 7 kilometres from downtown Banff. Drive slowly and watch for wildlife as you drive the switchbacks up the mountain (we saw a bear on the road in June and bighorn sheep in July). There is lots of free parking at the North American Lodge.
A free shuttle (hourly service) runs from downtown Banff and the Banff Train Station to Mount Norquay all summer long. For details, visit Mount Norquay | Shuttle Service.
For More Information / To Book Now
To learn more or book your Mount Norquay Via Ferrata adventure, please visit Mount Norquay | Via Ferrata.