Many have stared amazed as rock climbers wind their way up seemingly vertical cliffs in the Western mountains, but few take the plunge. But now, the advent of via ferratas -- "iron roads" -- has brought the holds, cracks, caribeeners and safety of rock climbing to a wider audience.
Five resorts in Colorado and California boast via ferratas, all but one with required tour guides. Here's a look:
Billed as "not for the faint of heart," Telluride's via ferrata perches up the box canyon from the main town at 10,100 feet. A three-mile loop runs 500 feet above the valley floor. Guided or unguided tours take climbers across a 200-foot rock wall, with views of iconic Bridal Veil Falls to the south. "Very experienced adventurers" need only apply.
At Jackson Hole, a gondola ride delivers climbers to extensive route layout in upper-mountain Casper Bowl. At least a dozen climbs -- grouped in three areas of skill -- spread across rock face with 500 feet of vertical.
Squaw Valleyopened four routes -- from introductory to more difficult -- up the Tram Face overlooking the base area. Take 4x4 and short hike to start of half- or full-day tours, including hour of orientation. Some 800 feet of rockwall awaits. Once at top, 4x4 takes climbers back down.
Mammothhas set up below the Caldera Overlook near McCoy Station mid-mountain, accessed by gondola for three-hour tour. Six routes await -- three beginner, two moderate with a suspension bridge between, and one expert. Climbs are 180 feet long max.
Two other Western resorts have via ferratas in development. At Taos Ski Valley, >the resort has mapped out three climbing zones in Kachina Bowl -- the mountain's highest terrain. Plans call for one- and two-hour tours of varying levels opening later this summer.
And, at Arapahoe Basin, mountain managers hope to open two via ferratas for the 2021 summer. One will center on the above-treeline East Wall while the other will nestled among the cliffs of the Steep Gullies in the west-edge Beavers area.