5 reasons to try a via ferrata

If you harbor a desire to scale massive rock faces, but you’re not up to the challenge of traditional rock climbing, tackling a via ferrata might be your ticket. Via ferratas use iron rungs — almost like steps or ladders — and cables to help people experience being on a cliff- or mountainside without needing years of technical climbing training.

People who climb via ferrata (“iron road” in Italian) routes wear a climbing harness with a tether, in a Y or V shape, attached. The tether acts as an energy absorber and has carabiners that are used to clip into the cables, thus keeping the participant safe by always having at least one tether attached.

High stepping at Kicking Horse Resort in Golden, British Columbia. Photo: Courtesy of Scott Brown/Kicking Horse Resort

Fun as they are, via ferrata routes were not invented for recreational use, but as a way for Italian soldiers to get through the Dolomites in the First World War. Today via ferratas are created purely for adventure; although most routes are still in Europe, more are popping up around the world, from Canada to South Africa.

The routes are always set up above breathtaking vistas and give participants a memorable experience they might not otherwise have been able to have. We think via ferrata is thrilling, and if you get a chance, you should certainly try it.

Here are the top five reasons to try via ferrata.

It’s like climbing, but much safer

A via ferrata guest climbing Mount Nimbus in British Columbia. Photo: Courtesy of Gery Unterasinger/Canadian Mountain Holidays

You are always protected by clipping into the tether on your harness, and if you do slip, you won’t fall far at all. The routes give you a view that only advanced climbers would otherwise experience, but with a lot less risk.

it’s fun for the whole family

Walking up the Skyladder via ferrata at Canadian Mountain Holidays. Photo: Courtesy of Roko Koell/Canadian Mountain Holidays

Most often, the only requirements for doing a via ferrata are age and stamina (though you do not have to be an elite athlete to do it). A common requirement is for the participant to be at least 12 years old and 77 pounds. Some routes are easier than others; you can choose accordingly.

You don’t have to wear climbing shoes

La Sportiva Trango Towers: comfortable, sturdy and lightweight. Photo: Katharine Erwin

Any climber can tell you that wearing climbing shoes all day long (or even for more than an hour) is rough. Luckily, to do a via ferrata, you want to have a harder-soled shoe or even a boot.

Companies are now making multi-purpose boots like the Trango Tower GTX by La Sportiva ($350) that are built with via ferrata in mind.

The views are amazing

Ever wanted to climb up a waterfall? No problem with a via ferrata. Photo: Courtesy of John Entwistle/Canadian Mountain Holidays

Just as via ferrata was started to get soldiers across inaccessible terrain, via ferrata today is made to get you to inaccessible terrain with loads of exposure. More and more ski resorts are building their own routes for summer visitors in areas that aren’t even skiable. Two words: epic selfies.

It can help you overcome a fear of heights

Climb next to the Conrad Glacier doing Canadian Mountain Holidays’ via ferrata route. Photo: Courtesy of Carl Trescher/Canadian Mountain Holidays

You are very safe when you are doing via ferrata; many routes are just like climbing a ladder. Via ferrata is very social, since you travel with a group and are right next to your pals. Conquering one of these routes can help you ease into heights by having your friends and family encourage you as you climb that iron road in the sky.

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