Is the Norquay Via Ferrata worth it?

Norquay Ski hill was kind enough to bring us here for a media day, but all thoughts and opinions are our own.

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Via Ferrata

What is a via ferrata? Is it safe?

First off, what exactly is a via ferrata?

In a nutshell, a via ferrata is a safe version of mountaineering. Permanent metal handholds, ladders, bridges, walkways and safety equipment are bolted into the side of the mountain, meaning you can easily climb and traverse your way to the top of a mountain with significantly reduced risk. Best of all, you’re clipped in to a wire with an extremely safe harness system that makes big falls virtually impossible.

How fit do I need to be?

At the end of the day, you’re still climbing a mountain with some moderate elevation gain, so some base fitness is required. But we had kids in our group and a very wide range of ages and abilities. The main thing is that you don’t need to have developed all the grip strength and technique that normal mountaineers have, so as long as you’re able to get up a normal hike, you should be fine here.

The Via Ferrata at Mt. Norquay in Banff

Banff’s via ferrata takes place way up on Mt. Norquay; a mountain with perfect views of the Bow Valley, Banff and a couple of towering mountains.

Depending on the package you choose, you’ll have the option of spending 2.5, 4, 5 or 6 hours exploring and working your way up the various features, with only the summiteer package getting you all the way to the actual summit of Mt. Norquay.

How much is the via ferrata at Mt. Norquay?

There are 4 packages to choose from:

  • Explorer – 2.5 hours, 1km, 145m elevation ($169CAD)
  • Ridgewalker – 4 hours, 1.4km, 260m elevation ($219CAD)
  • Skyline – 5 hours, 2.5km, 290m elevation ($279CAD
  • Summiteer – 6 hours, 3.2km, 360m elevation ($349CAD)

Side note: In my honest opinion, I think 2 hours wouldn’t be enough time to fully experience the mountain. Before we knew it, we were already having lunch and had been going for 3 or 4 hours. 2 hours would be over in a flash.

Climbing a mountain takes time, and it’s quite normal for 5 or 6 hours to breeze by before you realize it. If 6 hours seems off putting to you, believe me when I say that it will fly by!

What gear do you need to bring for the via ferrata?

If you’ve ever been hiking before, then what you’d normally wear is a great start. The key to most of these activities is layering well, because you’ll probably be a lot warmer going up than down, and the weather can change in an instant. If you want to read more about layering, check out our guide!

Usually when I hike, I’ll wear several layers on my top half, as well a bringing a windbreaker/waterproof jacket. On the bottom half, I’ll usually wear flexible trousers (like lulu lemon workout trousers – Louise often wears yoga pants or something similar). As rain was in the forecast, I also brought waterproof trousers to wear over the top.

Hats and gloves are a good idea too, as well as sturdy hiking books with plenty of grip! I also brought a small backpack to store my lunch and camera gear. If you want to bring a hat, a thin beanie that can fit under your helmet is best.

Generally speaking, layers are the most important, as any outer waterproofing, boots and gloves will be provided to you if necessary.

How to get to Mt. Norquay from Banff:

From the town of Banff, head up the road to the Norquay ski hill. The road winds up the mountainside until you reach a signpost that directs you to the right building. It’s 10 minutes from the town of Banff and extremely easy to figure out!

When to go?

We’d recommend going to try the Via Ferrata in either July, August or September. Outside of these months you might be a little chilly or find yourself slipping around on ice or snow!

Our day on the Via Ferrata

Our day started down at the base of the mountain with a few waivers and gear checks. As we were doing the 6 hour summiteer package, we were also allowed to raid the snack shop for a packed lunch. My personal highlight was the ‘meat stick’ and the salad. ;D

After grabbing lunch, we moved to a different building for a briefing and to grab our climbing gear. Helmets, harnesses, carabiners and gloves were all provided.

The Norquay chairlift

After our briefing, we were sent straight up the chairlift to the Cliffhouse bistro. This is where they give you a little practice with the carabiner system and where we started our via ferrata experience

We’ve mentioned this before, but the Norquay ski lift is one of the most scenic views in Banff. We often recommend it as a cheaper alternative to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, in fact.

Whether you’re riding it for some romantic photos of Banff, or for night skiing, it’s an amazing little chairlift with some of the best views of the town below. It’s also a great way to spot wildlife in the summer, with bears and elk being a common sighting.

The great thing about the via ferrata in Banff is that the ride is included in the price, and it’s a great chance to get some awesome photos before you start your day.

The Summiteer Package

On our day at Mt. Norquay, we were booked in for the summiteer package, which meant we’d be aiming for the very top. It was the longest 6 hour package, which also included a much needed drink and charcuterie board at the end of the day.

Along the way to the summit, we would cross multiple features, including a suspension bridge, a ladder and a plank (a plank suspended above a several hundred ft. drop!). There’s a little bit of steep hiking mixed in with climbing on the via ferrata. For these parts, you’re dangling over the edge of the mountain with only the small metal handholds to hold onto. It’s epic beyond words.

For someone that hikes but doesn’t mountaineer, this was an absolutely unforgettable experience unlike anything else I’ve ever done before.

So safe you don’t have to worry about the heights!

It’s weird; I’m normally the first person to completely freak out and lose it when I’m peering over the edge of a cliff, but for the first time in my life I felt totally safe! Here I was, dangling over what was easily the biggest drop I’d ever encountered, and I felt totally and strangely calm. It’s testament to the great training, guiding and the equipment that I was able to forget my normal fear of heights and feel nothing but excitement!

Will the via ferrata be cancelled if it rains?

The thing about climbing mountains is that you’re at the mercy of the elements, and the summer is notorious for its rain and thunderstorms. While the tours tend to go ahead in most weather (yes, even in seriously heavy rain – remember they provide you with waterproofs?), the whole thing gets called off at the first sign of lightning.

Unfortunately, our trip was cut short just before we reached the summit, as we received word that lightning was in the area. Apparently even if there’s lightning within 25km, it’s close enough to be a risk. In fairness, you are tied into an enormous metal wire running to the top of the mountain. No arguing with that!

In the end it was a really good decision to turn around, because the rain began soon after we started our descent, and by the time we reached the bottom we were soaked to the bone!

By my watch, it was the perfect time to head inside and grab a pint anyway!

The Cliffside Bistro

After the end of our tour, we all ran inside to the bistro to dry off and grab something to eat. Each of us were presented with some pretty spectacular looking charcuterie boards, and whatever we wanted from the drinks menu. Louise had a hot chocolate, I had a beer. We couldn’t have asked for a better end to the day, although we still had a long, wet chairlift ride to the bottom ahead of us!

Overall

We cannot recommend the Norquay Via Ferrata enough. It is definitely worth the money (in our opinion), whether you pay for the full day or just a shorter experience. The Norquay Via Ferrata offers something you can’t just go out and do by yourself without a bucketload of equipment and experience.

Not everyone has time to learn mountaineering in their short visit to the mountains, so this is the perfect way to dive in headfirst without investing hours and hours or thousands of dollars in training.

So is it worth the money? A resounding yes from us!

What are some great free things to do?

Sometimes spending lots of money isn’t on the cards, so it helps to have some free backup options. Why not try a couple of our favourite hikes, like Pocaterra Ridge or Larch Valley? Or maybe you want something a bit more advanced like a scramble? Try the Tower of Babel or Mount Temple!

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