Friday, July 16, 2021

The Ultimate Family Bonding Experience on the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata, Banff

Followers of this blog will know that we take family bonding pretty seriously and we're always looking for new ways to connect, to play together, and to keep the excitement of spending time together fresh. There are no bench-warmers in this family and nobody is sitting on the sidelines. For the most part, if one family member is hanging off the side of a mountain, we're all hanging off the side of a mountain together.

Standing on the summit of the ridgewalker route at the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata 

The Ultimate Family Bonding Experience in Banff 

My family was recently hosted at Mount Norquay on a guided Via Ferrata tour. We got to enjoy a scenic chairlift ride and then we spent ~ 3 hours climbing the cliffs above the ski hill together. We crossed an airy suspension bridge, we clung to the side of the mountain (laughing as we created crazy poses hanging off the narrow ledges,) and we made our way to the top of a beautiful ridge where we were rewarded with incredible views of Mount Rundle and the Town of Banff.

Hanging off the side of Vista Buttress 

Rest break along our Via Ferrata Ridgewalker route

The views never end at Mount Norquay 

Coach's Corner spices things up a bit!

No family members on the sidelines here!

What is a Via Ferrata

Italian for “iron road”, a Via Ferrata is an assisted climbing experience where you get the unique opportunity to climb a mountain without needing to have previous experience. (And when I say "climb" a mountain, I don't mean "hike up" a mountain on a nice trail, but I mean actually scale the cliff face of a mountain like an actual rock climber.)

Climbing the metal rungs up the cliffs

Traversing the Mt Norquay cliffs with steel cables and metal rungs

Via Ferrata routes use steel cables fixed to the rock face so that climbers can safely attach themselves to the cables without risking a life-threatening fall. Additional climbing aids along the route include iron rungs and pegs, ladders, suspension bridges, and other cable bridges.

It's just like climbing a ladder

The bridges added some solid excitement to the route!

Crossing a suspension bridge on the Ridgewalker route

The Mount Norquay Via Ferrata Experience

Mount Norquay has 6 different routes to try out ranging in length from 2 to 8 hours. The shortest route, the Explorer, is family-friendly if you have youth ages 12+ weighing at least 40kg (88 pounds.) This tour lasts 2 - 2.5 hours which includes the round trip chairlift ride.
"Step out of your comfort zone and try our Explorer route. Spend some time with your guide, get introduced to the equipment, head up a few pitches and cross the suspension bridge." 
The Explorer route gives you a good introduction to the Via Ferrata Experience

How's this for family bonding? Beats going to a movie, right?

My family participated in the 3.5 - 4 hour long Ridgewalker route (which was actually my first Via Ferrata experience 7 years ago and thus fitting that I got to bring my son and husband with me this time.)

This route is also family-friendly with youth 12+.

"To get a greater feel for heights, exposure and the full Via Ferrata experience, become a Ridgewalker! This half-day excursion takes you high up on the Norquay cliffs, climbing the Memorial, Sunrise and Vista buttresses – and of course, traversing the suspension bridge." 

My 12-year old LOVED the suspension bridge!

Splendid exposure with no risk of a life-threatening fall! 

Families with older teens can try the other 4 routes where youth must be 14+ years old, again weighing 40kg (88 pounds.) - So I guess my family will have to wait 2 more summers and then we'll be back at Mount Norquay for the full 8 hour tour! (I'm already excited!!) 

Read about the Via Ferrata routes at Mount Norquay here. 

I could easily do this for 6 - 8 hours!

Our Personal Experience at Mount Norquay

I did the 6 hour Summiteer Route at Norquay last summer so I'm no stranger to Via Ferratas. My husband had never tried one before, but is a rock climber with a strong mountaineering background. Hence I knew he wouldn't be scared of hanging off the side of a cliff for a few hours.

I also wasn't worried about my son in the slightest. Noah loves rock climbing and already climbs mountains that would scare most adults. He has a strong background in hiking + scrambling and I knew he'd love the Via Ferrata experience - and I was right.

My 12-year old had the absolute time of his life on the Ridgewalker Route! He was all smiles, happily chatted up our guide (the entire time,) and eagerly posed at every epic photo opportunity. He showed no fear and was engaged the entire time.

This 12 year old had the time of his life at Mt. Norquay!

Our 4 hour tour was the perfect length and we had several opportunities for snack and water breaks. We also had an amazing guide who made us feel very safe and comfortable. Our guide, Jazz, kept our son close to her the entire time, watched over him, and talked him through every section as we climbed. She was great at telling him the names of each section we were climbing (which he loved) and she took a ton of fabulous photos for us (which she shared with me at the end of our tour.)

Climbing Coach's Corner was the highlight for my son!

We were on a private tour so I'm sure we got a bit of "extra attention" in terms of photography and opportunities to chat to our guide along the climb, but if you are joining a group tour with children, and are at all nervous about your family's safety, just talk to your guide at the beginning and request that your child/children be placed near the front of the group.

Safety first! You'll be clipping in to steel cables the entire time!

"Noah's Perspective"

I figured since Noah is now 12, it was high time he started to contribute to this blog. So here goes (in his own words:)

I thought that the Via Ferrata was interesting and exciting. Only a few parts were scary and I think that it was totally safe in terms of not falling. 
I feel that people with acrophobia should refrain from doing this Via Ferrata since lots of sections are far off the ground and can make you dizzy.
I liked this fun little place called Coach's corner that was airy and cliffy, and where you had to put your feet on little metal rungs or "gas pedals" (round, tiny platforms to put your feet on.)
Overall, it was an exhilarating experience that was really fun to try.  

No fear for this 12 year old!

"It's not that far down..."

Making it look easy peasy!

Personal Suggestions and What you Need to Know In Advance

Equipment and what to bring

All of your climbing equipment is included (along with your helmet.) You can also borrow everything else you might need (at no cost) so if you show up in sneakers, a pair of hiking boots will be lent to you. You can even borrow rain gear if you aren't prepared for the day's weather forecast.

Wear comfortable outdoor clothing as you would for hiking (no jeans,) and think "stretchy." You will want pants that allow your legs to move, to bend, and to take some big steps.

Climbing the Soul Slabs on the Ridgewalker Route

Wear good hiking boots with a sturdy sole. I don't personally recommend light trail runners for this although my son did fine in his low cut Keen hiking shoes. If in doubt, wear what you have and you can borrow a pair of better boots when you check in.

Bring the normal stuff you'd bring for hiking in a day pack: sun glasses, sun block, bug spray, your own personal snack items of choice, lunch on longer tours, layers of clothing including a warm sweater and a rain jacket, and lots of water!! (I recommend a platypus filled with 2L of water so you can quickly take a sip when you need it.)

You'll likely also want gloves for your tour, which are provided. Alternately, if you have a pair of bike gloves, we brought ours and they worked well.

I'm a Via Ferrata Junkie! This was my 4th route

Taking Photos

If you want to take photos, choose your clothing carefully. On this tour I had my cell phone in my a good pocket where I knew it was secure (as did my husband with his.) In the past I've used a point and shoot camera with a lanyard around my neck and a carabiner attached to my harness. 

Don't put your phone or camera in your backpack if you want lots of photos - you'll only get summit shots if you do this.

Also, ask your guide for help with photos. Our guide was great at taking photos for us and then she shared them with me at the end of the tour.

Coach's Corner was one of my fav. parts of our route

Fitness Level

You'll want a fairly good fitness level on all routes, but that being said, you only actually gain 100 - 300 metres of height on the two beginner routes. Much of the time is spent traversing cliffs where you won't be exerting yourself in the same way as you would actually hiking up to the top of a mountain. You'll also have several rest breaks and the pace is never crushing.

Your guide will always be in front of you leading the way

Ending your tour at the Cliffhouse Bistro

We took an afternoon tour so our dinner was fast food on the way home. If you take an earlier tour though, you can stop in at the Cliffhouse Bistro for food and drinks at the end of your tour. The restaurant is perched at the top of the North American Chairlift where you start your tour from.

Just hanging out over the Town of Banff...

For More Information...

All information on the routes can be found here. 

You can also read more about the Mount Norquay Via Ferrata experience here: (Find out how a Via Ferrata works, what to bring, route schedules, safety guidelines, and group policies.)

And if you're interested in a longer tour, check out my adventure last year on the Summiteer route:

Climb a mountain in Banff this summer at Mount Norquay!

Follow our Adventures all Summer Long 

Make sure you're following on Instagram if you want to keep up with our weekly adventures over the summer.

Disclaimer: My family was hosted by Mount Norquay so that I could provide this review. As always, all opinions and words are my own.

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