Arapahoe Basin's via ferrata climbing route opens soon | The Know
Arapahoe Basin is beloved among skiers and snowboarders for its gnarly, rugged terrain and low-key vibe. And starting this summer, there’s a fitting new way to enjoy the largely untouched mountain landscape of this adventurous ski area: a via ferrata, or a protected climbing route, that tops out around 13,000 feet.
A-Basin’s via ferrata, which opens in late June on the East Wall (barring unexpected snow conditions), is the highest in North America, according to Katherine Fuller, a spokeswoman for the ski area.
“It offers a really adventurous, challenging experience,” she said. “You’re up there mostly alone, there aren’t a lot of crowds because it’s hard to get to where you’re going. You get this sense of accomplishment and this peace from being in the mountains and on top of everything. It’s just so cool and different.”
Mountaineering soldiers built and climbed the first via ferratas in the Dolomites during World War I. The name, which means “iron way” or “iron path” in Italian, is a reference to the sturdy iron rungs and cables the troops used to travel safely through the mountains while loaded down with supplies.
These days, via ferratas are becoming increasingly popular at ski resorts and other vacation destinations across the country, including many in Colorado. A hybrid of rock climbing, hiking, scrambling and aerial adventure parks, via ferratas don’t require previous climbing experience, but they offer similar access to hard-to-reach terrain and sweeping views.
Nearly all via ferrata routes, including Arapahoe Basin’s, incorporate steel rungs anchored into the rock face and cables that visitors can securely attach themselves to with harnesses, lanyards and carabiners. Some also include other features, like suspension bridges and catwalks.
When considering new summer infrastructure and offerings, the ski area’s leaders felt that a via ferrata best jived with A-Basin’s natural high-alpine beauty and focus on human-powered activities.
“We were really looking for something that fit the character of the landscape,” Fuller said. “And kind of mirroring what A-Basin is as a winter ski area, which is a really adventurous, challenging place. We’re not the kind of place that is going to have a mountain coaster or theme park-type rides. That’s just not our culture or our vibe.”
For skiers familiar with A-Basin’s East Wall, the via ferrata is situated between the Willy’s Wide and North Pole double-black diamond runs. The terrain is backcountry-esque while still being in-bounds.
“It’s in a spectacular location,” said Mike Friedman, owner of Adventure Partners, which built the Arapahoe Basin via ferrata (and many others across the country). “Arapahoe Basin is one of the great ski resorts in Colorado and it fits their brand perfectly. It’s completely unique in its scale. It’s big — it’s probably 1,500 vertical (feet). It’s the most like a European via ferrata that we’ve built so far in the U.S. in terms of scale.”
A-Basin’s via ferrata includes multiple guided routes of varying lengths and difficulty, all above treeline. Visitors can choose from a half-day or a full-day excursion with an experienced ski area mountain guide (no free climbing allowed).
The full-day tour climbs 800 feet to the 13,000-foot ridgeline, while the shorter half-day option stops at an old mine shaft. Both start with a chairlift ride, a short off-road vehicle trek, a safety demonstration and a quick hike to the via ferrata base. Rates range from $425 to $575 for the first two people, plus $125 for each additional person up to five total; the rate includes all the necessary via ferrata equipment and a boxed lunch.
With the addition of the via ferrata (and an aerial adventure park last year), Arapahoe Basin will be open seven days a week this summer for the first time. Other activities include hiking, mountain biking, chairlift rides, disc golf, outdoor yoga classes and mountain dining.
It’s brisk up at 12,000 to 13,000 feet, even in the middle of the summer, so Fuller recommends bringing layers, wearing sunscreen and packing a camera — and taking plenty of time to pause and appreciate the views.
“It’s just an insanely beautiful environment,” she said. “It’s a really neat way to get above and away from it all.”
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