The via ferrata, Italian for “iron path,” has a long history in Europe. First installed in the Alps in the 19th century, these fixed routes, which consist of steel rungs and cables that climbers clip onto, became famous for their role in the hard-fought World War I campaign between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Dolomites.
Today, in North America, this old mechanism has been put to a far more peaceful use: providing an extra-safe way to access spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains. The latest, set to open as soon as the snow melts this spring, is the via ferrata at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area (“A-Basin”). The 800-foot route, which skirts the Continental Divide on A-Basin’s East Wall, reaches an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet above sea level, making it the highest via ferrata in North America, and the second-highest in the world.
Tony Cammarata, A-Basin’s operations director, began dreaming of installing a via ferrata about a decade ago, after the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011 allowed ski resorts to expand their on-mountain offerings. Construction started last summer, and those who brave the wall for a half-day (about four hours) or full-day (around six hours) this summer will be rewarded with a panorama that includes the Gore Range and Dillon Valley. The scenery is stunning—even for those who’ve spied these landscapes during the winter.
“I’ve skied the East Wall for 25 years, but when I first got on this via ferrata route, I found myself in a place that I had never been before,” Cammarata says. “It blew me away. For some people, this is going to be the greatest alpine experience of their lives.”