Scaling Kootenay Heights: Ropes Courses, Via Ferratas & Ziplines

Scaling Kootenay Heights: Ropes Courses, Via Ferratas & Ziplines

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Are you up for a challenge? Good—the Kootenays are ready for you, too. From mountain biking to whitewater kayaking, all throughout this mountainous region are places to put your coordination, balance, and bravery to the test. But if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush in nature with some structure built in, it’s time to try one of the area’s ropes courses, via ferratas or ziplines.  

Photo courtesy of SkyTrek Adventure Park, west of Revelstoke, BC

Listed in alphabetical order by location, here’s where to climb, scale, and fly in the Kootenays:

MINERAL MOUNTAIN ZIPLINES (Fairmont Hot Springs, BC)

Opening this July, Mineral Mountain Ziplines will be located at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. The founders, two brothers from the Okanagan—Jay and Todd Manton—have already seen success with their Nelson-area zipline that opened a couple of years ago. Wanting to expand the fun from West Kootenay to East, participants at the Fairmont location will see views of the Columbia Valley—including Lake Windermere, Columbia Lake, and the hoodoos in the region—as well as the rugged heights of the Rocky and Purcell Mountains as they zip through six different lines.

“It’s one of the only places in Canada where you can zipline below the headwall of a Rocky Mountain,” says one of the Manton brothers. “You’ll criss-cross back and forth over Fairmont Creek Canyon and overlook the vast Columbia Valley with spectacular sights of the Purcell Mountains on the opposite side of the valley.”

FERNIE ALPINE RESORT AERIAL PARK & ZIPLINE

Looking for a team-building experience? Take your co-workers out for the morning and work together in Fernie’s trees. The resort’s aerial playground takes participants on a three-hour, 16-challenge canopy course. Guides are on hand to help you and your crew work through the obstacles which include bridges, log swings and ziplining between trees.

Want a team-building experience of the family variety? A mini version of the aerial course is available for the little ones. Don’t have three hours? Fernie’s giant zipline is the ticket for a quick adrenaline rush in the Canadian Rockies.

AWESOME ALL-SEASON ADVENTURES (Golden, BC)

Want to zip in tandem with your bestie at 70-kms per hour?

Awesome All-season Adventures’ three dual ziplines propel you through Canadian Rocky scenery, including a crossing of the Kicking Horse River. The course’s lines work their way up in height, starting at a lower elevation to help newbies ease their way into the experience. The ziplines, which range in length from 90 to 500 metres, are connected by a series of interpretive trails and each are manned by a guide at either end to help load and unload each zipliner.

CANADIAN MOUNTAIN HOLIDAYS (CMH) VIA FERRATAS (south of Golden, BC)

You’ll get into higher elevation before you even start your CMH via Ferrata excursion. Both CMH’s Bobbie Burns and Bugaboos lodges offer guests wilderness via Ferrata experiences—but to get there, you’ll take to the skies first, via helicopter.

Photo courtesy of CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures, photo by Gery Unterasinger
(Mt. Nimbus via Ferrata, CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge)


Mt. Nimbus via Ferrata & Conrad Glacier Adventure at CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge

Mt. Nimbus via Ferrata ("Look Around")

If the helicopter flight doesn’t satiate your appetite for altitude, taking the via ferrata route to the summit of Mt. Nimbus might be what you’re after. “The exposure is mind-blowing,” says Tanya Otis, Public Relations Manager for CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures. The route spans two spires with what she calls a "Harry-Potter-esque suspension bridge", giving climbers a dizzying look at the valley floor while suspended over 600-metres above. “It’s the kind of experience that stays with you the rest of your life.”

The via ferrata came as a result of over-demand.

Before the Mt. Nimbus via ferrata, Carl Trescher, an ACMG Mountain Guide at the CMH lodge, and his team were having a hard time keeping up the ever-growing desire of guests who wanted to participate in mountaineering excursions. “A traditional day of climbing is actually quite physical and strenuous, we almost couldn’t find enough guides to go do it,” says Trescher in an article for CMH. “We needed a superior way to take a group of people out to experience climbing a peak in a safe environment.”

After studying safety techniques in Europe, CMH’s guides returned to the Kootenays to build what is now North America’s longest via Ferrata route.

Their route up Mount Nimbus allows guests to experience technical terrain without the need for mountaineering experience or heavy gear. “You don’t have to have any hiking or climbing experience to do these excursions,” says Otis. “You just have to be reasonably fit. I’ve hiked these with teens and some of our … guests in their 60’s.”

Conrad Glacier Adventure 

Though Otis describes the Conrad Glacier Adventure as 'mostly a glacier hike' on the Conrad Icefield, there’s a twist to this hiking experience: for sections of this excursion, a harness is required. That’s because there’s a via Ferrata built into the route, helping hikers navigate waterfalls and vertical sections of rock.

Photo courtesy of CMH Heli Skiing & Summer Adventures, photo by Carl Trescher
(Conrad Glacier Adventure, CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge)

Photo courtesy of CMH Heli Skiing & Summer Adventures, photo by John Entwistle
(Conrad Glacier Adventure, CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge)

And that’s not the only surprise along the way: two zip lines and two cable bridges help keep things interesting (as though walking over glacial-polished stone while being surrounded by views of the biggest icefield in the Columbia Mountains wasn’t enough!).

Skyladder & Crystal Ridge Via Ferratas at CMH Bugaboos Lodge

Skyladder via Ferrata

Want to get your bearings before going for the gold on Mt. Nimbus? Based out of CMH’s Bugaboos Lodge, the Skyladder via Ferrata is CMH’s answer for guests who need to ease into the idea of being clipped into a mountain hundreds of metres above level ground.

Like the Mt. Nimbus via Ferrata, the Skyladder via Ferrata was built by CMH guides, but on Trundle Mountain in the Purcells. The half-day tour leading to the summit is promoted as an introduction to the 'iron road' (what the Italian 'via Ferrata' translates to). However, the Skyladder’s half-day tour offers a hefty reward for participants of every skill level: here in its Bugaboos surroundings, this via Ferrata’s scenic payoff is justifies a trip for even the most experienced climber.  

Crystal Trail via Ferrata

Granite spires spearing the sky from glaciated bases: that’s the view here at CMH’s Bugaboos Lodge, and the Crystal Trail via Ferrata is the newest way to surround yourself with it. Last summer, following the success of earlier via Ferrata installations at both the CMH Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns Lodge, guides began taking guests on a route that accesses a quartz vein within the spires. But this is a via Ferrata with extra adrenaline built in: From a branch in the via Ferrata route, guests are carried—as fast as gravity can take them—into the basin via a zipline.

KICKING HORSE MOUNTAIN RESORT VIA FERRATA (Golden, BC)

“...this may be the toughest via Ferrata in North America.”

Photo courtesy of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

That’s how a Men's Journal post describes Kicking Horse’s via Ferrata. Accessing the resort’s summits in the summer is an altogether different adventure than what skiers are used to, and clipped into Kicking Horse’s via Ferrata is one of the most immersive—and technical—ways to experience it.

But first you have to get there. Meet your initial test: making your way over a suspension bridge as you watch the ground drop out from below you. Once on the other side, you’ve got 465-metres of vertical to go, and you’ll do it by traversing a sheer mountain face. For those with an appetite for adrenaline, being suspended mid-mountain—with a clear view of the ground 275-metres below—is a rush that’s unmatched.

And the yes, there’s a reward. Besides topping out at Canada’s highest-elevation restaurant, Eagle’s Eye, you’ve also earned a few pride points.

“It’s ... one of the most exhilarating experiences,” says “Powder” Matt Mosteller, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Resort Experience at Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. “You’re not only challenging fear, but—most importantly—gaining inner confidence.”

Insider tip: “Keep an eye peeled for the LEGO characters hidden throughout the course by the climbers who first drilled in the route!” - Emile Lavoie, Marketing, Media & Events Coordinator at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

KOKANEE MOUNTAIN ZIPLINE (Nelson, BC) 

The road to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, just outside of Nelson, is well known by mountain bikers and hikers: it’s long attracted people to some of the region’s best hiking and mountain biking. Two years ago this summer, another attraction was added: Kokanee Mountain Zipline.

Photo courtesy of Kokanee Mountain Zipline

Built by the Manton brothers—the same who are creating the Mineral Mountain Zipline at Fairmont Hot Springs —Kokanee Mountain Zipline is made of a series of six ziplines that zigzag through 18-hectares (44-acres) of old growth Douglas fir and pine. Because of the beauty, the Mantons knew they had found their dream location.

But they also knew it was a unique forest ecosystem, and so they set about constructing the zipline course with as little effect on the surroundings as possible.

“Everything from the original construction through to our day-to-day operations has been designed to minimize our impact on surrounding habitat,” says Melissa Maida, Office Manager for Kokanee Mountain Zipline. “We view this ecotourism endeavour as a tremendous opportunity to create awareness about BC’s natural environment, one tour at a time.”

Kokanee Mountain’s course plays into that awareness by allowing views of the things that the Kootenay Lake region—the area of the West Kootenays where Kokanee Mountain Zipline is located—is known for: peaks, forests, glacial rivers, wildlife, and, of course, Kootenay Lake itself. But you’ll have to stay attentive to catch it all; while cruising at altitudes of 107-metres high, you’ll be at speeds of up to 90-kms per hour.

VALLEY ZIP (Radium Hot Springs, BC) 

It’s yet to open, but when the July 21 launch comes this summer, guests at Valley Zipline in Radium Hot Springs can expect seven ziplines and a tour of an hour and a half that winds them through the course.

Think of this as an interpretive zipline experience. While participants are flying through the Columbia Valley scenery, the guides will not only deliver high-speed excitement, but also teach guests about the forest and wetland ecosystems, including tidbits about wildlife and the local area.

“We chose Radium Hot Springs as our location because we have a love for this area and we want to share it with others,” says Krista Berg, founder and co-owner of Valley Zip. Their location, adjacent to Dry Gulch Provincial Park and near Kootenay National Park, provides solid reasoning for that love.

As for the zipline course itself, guests will navigate ziplines of varying length and height, all showcasing the terrain of the Columbia Valley. “Our first five ziplines take you zig-zagging across the Dry Gulch valley,” says Berg. “Our 6th line gets you in place for a spectacular view of the Columbia Valley wetlands.” The last? It’s the the longest and fastest of the seven: “Race a friend to the finish, this is a double zip!”

SKYTREK ADVENTURE PARK (near Revelstoke, BC) 

32-kms west of Revelstoke, and deep in the shade of Kootenay old growth, lies SkyTrek Adventure park and its five adventure stations. While lots of activities are things other than ropes courses and ziplines, with six ziplines and an 'Aerial Trekking Course', these make their showing as part of the fun, too.

Photo courtesy of SkyTrek Adventure Park

And yes, the offerings are a family friendly way to take on physical challenges. The Aerial Trekking Course includes over 30 games in the trees that test agility and stamina and require you and the fam to climb, scramble, swing, and slide your way from station to station. There’s even a zip line that straps you into a snowboard for the ride down. 


Words by Gina Begin.  Cover photo, courtesy of CMH Heli Skiing & Hiking.

Gina Begin - Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. On a quest to reach the distant adventures of North America, she lived in her car, traveling to ski the backcountry of Alaska, sleep under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climb Colorado's frozen canyons, photograph Nova Scotia’s coves, backpack in southern US wildernesses and munch on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But after three years living on the road and seeing the many wonders this continent had to offer, she chose the place she knew would fit an explorer looking for a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains.

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Tags: Canadian Rockies Columbia Mountains Explore Canada ExploreBC The Kootenays

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