There I was, at around 2300m in the sky, and JR was telling me to lean further away from the rock to get a better view of the endless mountain peaks around us. As scary as that may sound, I was perfectly safe to do so, since I was on the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
Not only does Kicking Horse’s Via Ferrata offer some of the most impressive alpine views you’ll ever see, but it also allows for an incredibly safe yet exciting climbing experience.
Not sure what a Via Ferrata is? Let me tell you all about it and why you need to try the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in British Columbia, Canada.
What is ‘Via Ferrata’?
Via Ferrata means ‘iron road’ in Italian, which quite aptly describes this style of climbing. Instead of relying completely on rock holds, Via Ferrata courses have fixed metal steps and handles to help climbers ascend and traverse.
On top of that, Via Ferrata climbers are safely anchored to the rock at all times via a cable system, so there is zero risk of danger.
With all this considered, Via Ferrata is a bit like climbing without any of the stress. JR and I do climb occasionally, and it was quite refreshing not to have to worry about building anchors and double (and triple) checking knots.
The fixed steps and handles make ascending a lot easier but there’s still some thought required. There are places where it is helpful to use the rock for better foot and hand holds, especially if you are vertically challenged like me (I’m 5″2). Via Ferrata is definitely not quite as easy as climbing a ladder!
Via Ferrata or climbing?
If you’ve ever wanted to try climbing but are not sure whether it is for you, I think visiting a Via Ferrata course is a good way to start. There’s no question that the experience is different in a few ways but it’ll give you an indication whether you enjoy being on rock or not.
With the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort being guided, all of the equipment is provided and the safety aspect completely taken care of.
The Via Ferrata Experience at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
There are only a handful of Via Ferrata courses in North America and the one at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is reportedly the most exposed and exhilarating one of them all.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort offers three Via Ferrata experiences:
- Pioneer – approx 1 hour
- Discovery – approx 2 hours
- Ascension – approx 3 hours
All three tours start in the same location on Terminator Ridge and follow the same initial route. The longest tour, Ascension, ends just below Terminator Peak, while Discovery culminates around 100m lower.
Each of the Via Ferrata tours include a trip over a suspension bridge, plus exposed traverses along the rock as well as vertical ascents.
Not having tried Via Ferrata before, we picked the Discovery tour. I wanted to ease into the experience and see how we liked it before committing to the longest route!
Our Via Ferrata Discovery tour
Before even heading to the Via Ferrata, we were given a chance to practice first at a mini-course near the gondola.
The Via Ferrata system is very simple to understand but it was helpful to have a go before being in a more exposed location. It also made me reason the importance of gloves, as the metal rungs can be pretty cold!
The real Via Ferrata course is accessible via a short 15 minute hike along Terminator Ridge. The path is narrow at times and ascends quickly to the Via Ferrata start. Here, we clipped into the safety line and began our climb.
Our first obstacle was a suspension bridge, slightly wobbly and surprisingly long! Just as things start getting exciting, the views do as well. It’s hard not to feel on top of the world while on the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse.
Thrills await after the suspension bridge, with the Via Ferrata route travelling along incredibly exposed rock and climbing impossibly jagged cliffs.
Despite this, there are still many places to catch your breath and enjoy the view. And be sure to do this often; there’s plenty of time and the perspective from the Via Ferrata course is definitely a unique one!
Our tour culminated with several longer sections of vertical climbing followed by a challenging traverse. Even JR, who I swear is practically fearless, found it a little gnarly!
After unclipping from the Via Ferrata line, we followed a set of rock stairs up to the summit of Terminator Peak (2396m). What a reward!
What you need to know about Kicking Horse’s Via Ferrata
No experience is needed to try the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort but be sure to bring energy, enthusiasm and a sense of adventure. Here are some more tips:
- It is recommended to reserve in advance to avoid disappointment. You can do this online or via phone 1-250-439-5554.
- Via Ferrata tours continue throughout all types of weather, with the exception of thunderstorms. The Kicking Horse Mountain Resort team monitor weather conditions closely and adjust tours as necessary.
- There are both morning and afternoon Via Ferrata tours, but the morning is preferable for better weather conditions. Thunderstorms are more likely to roll in during the afternoon.
- Scared of heights? The Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort may not be the tour for you. The Via Ferrata experience starts and ends at elevation and features steep drop offs and lots of exposure to the elements.
- It is a good idea to arrive at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort around an hour earlier than your booked Via Ferrata tour. This allows enough time to get your bearings, pick up the Via Ferrata/gondola tickets, take the gondola to the top of the mountain, use the washrooms and enjoy the views at the top.
- Via Ferrata tours meet at the hut besides the gondola arrival point at the top of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Look for the Via Ferrata poster.
- The journey to and from the Via Ferrata course travels up and down some narrow trails with steep drop offs. The section just below the Terminator summit features rock steps. I brought a folding hiking pole with me and found it useful (but not essential)
- If there are items you want to bring up the gondola but don’t need for the tour, it is possible to store them in the locked Via Ferrata hut. We left a backpack here with extra snacks for the hike we planned to do after the Via Ferrata experience.
What to wear on a Via Ferrata
Conditions in the alpine can change quickly. Even if there are blue skies when you board the gondola, it is very possible that rain clouds could roll in within an hour or two.
For this reason, it is so important to come prepared with appropriate clothing for the Via Ferrata tour. Here’s what you should wear and bring for your Via Ferrata experience:
- Comfortable pants that offer some stretch (preferably nylon/polyester, most hiking varieties will do)
- T-shirt made of non-cotton material
- Long sleeve mid layer (e.g. fleece, merino wool, light jacket)
- Waterproof jacket
- Closed toe shoes with grip (e.g. hiking boots, runners, approach shoes)
- Light gloves suitable for holding onto metal rungs
It is also a good idea to bring sunscreen and sunglasses. If you have long hair, bring a hair band to tie it up with.
Small backpacks are allowed to be carried on the Via Ferrata. I’d recommend to bring water and a snack (granola bar, nuts). There are a couple of opportunities to stop for a break during the tour and you may appreciate an extra dose of energy. A water bladder is ideal to use if you have one.
If taking photos is important to you (and trust me, there’s lots of cool vantages for shots!) bring a camera with some kind of lanyard or leash. We brought our cell phone on a belt clip, doubled up with a lanyard for extra security.
What to do after your Via Ferrata experience
After celebrating the completion of the Kicking Horse Via Ferrata, you may wonder what to do next. The tour officially ends back at the Via Ferrata hut next to the gondola. What you do afterwards is up to you, but here are some suggestions:
- Have a bite to eat at the Eagle’s Eye, Canada’s highest restaurant. Entree meals start at around $20. The clever design of the restaurant offers many excellent views. Be sure to check for specials on appetisers and drinks.
- Go for a hike. There are seven hiking trails accessible from the Kicking Horse gondola. You’ve already completed two (Terminator Ridge and Terminator Peak), so consider adding another to the list. We enjoyed the quick rewards and panoramic views of Dogtooth Ridge, especially after ascending the ‘Stairway to Heaven.’
- Visit the Grizzly Bear Refuge. Boo is an orphaned grizzly bear that has lived at Kicking Horse since 2003. The refuge is located right on the slopes of the mountain (accessible via the Catamount Chairlift) and is the world’s largest enclosed grizzly bear habitat. The natural setting of the refuge allows Boo to forage for much of his food.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has additional food options at the base area.
The other major summer activity at the resort is mountain biking, with day passes, lessons and rentals all available. There are trails from both the gondola and Catamount Chair.
Things to do around Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Beyond Kicking Horse, the town of Golden is a hub of outdoor adventure. Rafting, hiking, camping, paragliding, climbing, mountain biking and paddling are all possible close by.
If you need a break from the action, there are plenty of restaurants in town with sunny patios (our pick was the Wolf’s Den) and regular live music shows in Spirit Square.
Some awesome local hikes include the Gorman Lake Trail, Thompson Falls Trail, Mummery Glacier Trail and Mount Seven. The latter is accessible via a `14km fairly well maintained gravel road to the Mount 7 Lookout. The views from this popular paragliding launching spot are already phenomenal without even setting foot on a trail!
Where is Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and Golden?
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is 14km from the town of Golden in British Columbia. Golden itself is an easy 20 minute drive from the western border of the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks.
Golden has plenty of accommodation options from B&Bs and motels to chain hotels and lodges. It is also possible to stay at Kicking Horse, in a condo, townhouse or alpine chalet.
Alternative alpine experiences in British Columbia’s Kootenay region
Looking for more thrills and adventure in the Kootenay region of BC? Here are some recommendations:
Fernie Aerial Park
For more high flying fun, head to the picture perfect community of Fernie in the East Kootenays. Here, you’ll find an aerial park experience set into the lower alpine slopes of Fernie Alpine Resort.
Swing, balance and jump along the elevated obstacles before ziplining back down to earth. If you’re feeling brave, there’s an opportunity to free fall from a platform – a bit like a bungy jump without the bounce.
For me, though, my biggest challenge was a multi-platform swinging obstacle. I didn’t know I had such a wobbly platform phobia!
Hiking at Fernie Mountain Resort
Besides the aerial experience, Fernie Mountain Resort also has some great opportunities for hiking. In addition to beautiful wildflower meadows and panoramic views, Fernie’s trails also offer the chance to see rare old growth rainforest.
Magnificent Western Red Cedar trees reach into the sky, representing a micro climate that exists nowhere else in the Kootenays. Pick up a trail map at Guest Services or book onto a guided hike starting from Nature Bob’s Interpretive Centre.
Hiking in Kimberley
Kimberley is another local destination that excels in terms of hiking. And you really don’t have to go far at all to get on the trail, for Kimberley is home to British Columbia’s largest municipal park. We loved the views from the S. W. Passage outlook. And, to think, the Nature Park offers just a taste of the hiking opportunities around Kimberley!
While there may not be any organised summer activities at Kimberley Alpine Resort, it is a great place to be based for a visit to the area.
Summer accommodation at Trickle Creek Lodge, for example, is very reasonably priced and many rooms come with a view of the wildflower covered ski slopes. There is also an on-site restaurant with fab happy hour deals (perfect for a post-hike reward) and a heated outdoor swimming pool.
Thank you to Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, who assisted with our visit to the mountains of Golden, Kimberley and Fernie