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June 2021

A Via Ferrata Adventure

The Via Ferrata at Mt Norquay

“You’ll be clipping and unclipping these 220 times.”

This is what John Thornton (‘JT’ to everyone in the Bow Valley) tells us as we look down at the carabiners attached to our climbing harnesses.

We are at the base lodge at Mount Norquay, about to embark on a four hour adventure on the cliffs above the ski resort, and everyone is excited to be trying something new. That something new is Norquay’s Via Ferrata, first launched in 2014, with JT playing a major roll in its development and operation.

Guide John Thornton, happy in his natural habitat.

I’ve been wanting to try it ever since, and yesterday I got my chance. As a bonus, JT is leading our group. I’ve known JT ever since I arrived in Banff, and am keen to see him in his natural habitat.

After a quick ride up the trusty North American chairlift — built in 1948 and still going strong — we are ready to clip in and meet the “iron road.” Via Ferratas were first developed in Italy, and are an ingenious way to get up steep mountain-sides. Steel rungs for your feet and hands are attached to the cliff, and you clip your carabiners to steel cables adjacent to the iron steps. The combo allows you to climb easily, and be protected in case you fall.

JT leads the way, offering tips and encouragement, and we climb up and up, over steep bluffs, through little chasms, even across a suspension bridge. Below us is a fabulous view of Banff and the Bow River, and from north to south, a glorious panorama of Banff’s two signature mountains, Rundle and Cascade.

I’ve done a lot of rock climbing, scrambling, and even a few alpine climbs, so I shouldn’t be having so much fun, but the Via Ferrata is pure happy time. It gives you an eagle’s eye view, camaraderie with your new cablemates, and the joy of being up where the clouds can go.

People often ask me what I like to do on my days off, and what other things there are to do in Banff park. Yesterday the answer to both questions overlapped, and I highly recommend Banff’s Via Ferrata.