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Extreme Rockies Experiences for the Beginner

~ Three exciting activities to try at any level of expertise.

 If you are in the market for some new outdoor adventures but are daunted by experiences you think may only be for hard core adventure types, I have a few suggestions for you.

First things first –> Head to Banff. Winter or summer – take your pick. They both rock immensely.

Since however, we are in the middle of winter I will first share with you two recent experiences I had the pleasure of taking part in, both were new and adventurous.

You may have snowshoed before but Rockies Heli Canada takes the outdoor activity to new heights. Literally.

Rockies Heli Co-pilot

This could be your view as co-pilot in a Rockies Heli experience.

Take in incredible views as you head upwards of 100mph via a 20-minute helicopter ride. Talk about a great way to see the Rockies! Once you arrive atop a mountain you will strap on your snowshoes (brought by the pilot) and weave your way through a pine filled forest. Your pilot will also serve as your guide.

helicopter while heli snowshoeing

Landing atop Lusk Hill was absolutely breathtaking!

I have to say it was pretty surreal to be taking in a view of the mountains from on top of one. The best part however was when we (there was me and fellow journalist – Doug O’Neill on this trip) were led to a small vantage point where we stopped to enjoy the view and have some hot chocolate and baileys. We could see in distance to our left the high rises of Calgary’s downtown, Fortress Mountain in front of us and to our right the Opal Range across from Kananaskis valley.

Snowshoeing on a mountain view

Ahhh, ther perfect spot to take a breather and enjoy the view.

TIP: Don’t forget your camera.

To get there:

While en route to Banff on Highway #1, take a left on #Highway (AB) 40, heading toward Kananaskis just before Canmore. On your immediate left you will find the Heliport (in the same parking lot as the Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino).

Cost per person: $285


Ice Climbing at Johnston Canyon
Now I’m not going to lie and say anyone could and should try ice climbing. But, if you are a beginner who is reasonably fit and can handle the 1.5-mile hike carrying a pack and walking with crampons through Johnston Canyon, then you should be easily able to try ice climbing.

hiking Johnston Canyon

The scenic hike to the Upper Falls is most definitely a highlight of the experience.

Really, the idea of ice climbing may be daunting, but it’s made pretty darn easy when done with a guide. We had the pleasure of hanging out with Jesse Peterson, who has been guiding for Yanmuska Mountain Adventures now for four years. Jesse, who has been a rock climber for well over a decade, was able to provide us with a good level of knowledge, support and comfort as we scaled the canyon’s Upper Falls. Plus he equipped us with all of the gear – including backpacks.

Jonhston Canyon View

Trust your guide to have your back while you climb the ice.

Besides the great feeling that came along with making it to the top, the insanely beautiful scenery of the Upper Falls, and the hike along the way made trying ice climbing a fulfilling experience.

Blue Ice Frozen Waterfall Johnston Canyon

You will marvel at the beauty of the blue ice. Isn’t it incredible?

Tip: I highly recommend giving this activity a go. Bring lots of water to drink! Don’t underestimate the hike. P.S. For those who want the experience without the long hike, there are other options. 🙂

Cost for a three hour (half-day) beginner’s experiential ice climbing session is: $360/person + GST. Prices drop with more participants (with 2 -$200/person, 3 – $160, 4 or more – $145)
The other extremely cool activity I want to include is one I haven’t done yet, but it’s both adventurous and accessible. I am aiming to try in 2015. Anyone wanna come and scale a mountain with me?


Via Ferrata, Mount Norquay
I have read, “If you can climb a ladder, you can climb the Via Ferrata.” Yep, that is what it says right here. No experience is necessary it seems to partake in Banff’s newest adventure offering.

Mount Norquay Via Ferrata Birds Eye

With its ‘built in climbing system’ scaling Mount Norquay is made relatively easy! Photo credit: Mount Norquay

The Via Ferrata (Italian for ‘iron rod’) was launched last summer in the Mount Norquay ski area. Via a 15-minute open-air sightseeing ride up Mount Norquay to 8,040 feet, visitors enjoy an awe-inspiring view of Banff and the Bow Valley.

Then it’s time to get climbing.

Via Ferrata Banff

Doesn’t this make you want to try the Via Ferrata? Photo Credit: Mount Norquay

So what is the Via Ferrata? It’s is an assisted climbing experience on the cliffs along above the Norquay ski area. A certified guide takes you through one of two routes where you can expect to cross ladders, a 30-metre suspension bridge, and traverse the side of the mountain.

Tip: I don’t have one any as I haven’t tried it. But how about GO! I have only heard amazing things about this adventure.

This 2-hour Explorer Route costs: $139CAD/person.

Via Ferrata Mount Norquay

I mean look at this view!
Photo Credit: Mount Norquay

In 2015, an extended route called the “Mountaineer” will be offered as well at Mt. Norquay, and will last 6 hours. Lunch will be served on the summit, along with a commemorative Mountaineer menu and wine list in the Cliffhouse Bistro.

If you are staying in Banff, here are a few suggestions for where to refuel and lay your head.

Check out these dining options:

  • Grizzly House if … you have a penchant for meat, especially exotic meat (think alligator, rattlesnake, ostrich). And fondue. Definitely go if you like fondue.
  • The Bison if … you are into a regional and seasonally inspired meal (and amazing mountain views – the restaurant boasts windows on three sides)
  • The Balkan if … your heart desires exceptional Greek cuisine.
  • Eden at The Rimrock Hotel if … a fine dining experience and an extensive wine menu are what you fancy (17,000 bottles of wine in inventory!).
  • Nourish Bistro if … you are the healthy adventure type who wants something both tasty and vegetarian.

Consider a stay at:

  • Buffalo Mountain Lodge because … of its great location and views (on Tunnel Mountain), spacious rooms and luxury lodge appeal (think coziest of the cozy with claw foot tubs and wood burning fireplace).
  • The Juniper because … it has stellar views, though it’s a bit outside of town, it enables you to enjoy wildlife spotting and skiing off the back of your deck.
  • The Fairmont Banff Springs because … you love it’s castle feel and iconic history, and you are able to splurge.
  • Baker Creek Chalets because … you are into that whole log cabin, casual atmosphere thing.
  • Storm Mountain Lodge because … you love rustic, attention to detail and being so cozy you never want to leave.


*Many thanks to Banff Lake Louise Tourism who covered my expenses while trying out these new experiences. These views on the above activities are strictly my own and this post has not been vetted prior to being published.


8 thoughts on “Extreme Rockies Experiences for the Beginner
  1. I’ve never been to Banff but it’s on our list, my boyfriend worked as a chef at the Banff Springs Hotel for 7 years and said there are tons of hidden passages – and ghosts. I’d like to see the passages but not the ghosts.

  2. I think my fear of heights might stop me from doing the via ferrata, but the views certainly look amazing. I could definitely get behind the heli snowshoeing though. I didn’t even realize that was a thing.

    • Jenn Smith Nelson on said:

      I didn’t really either Alouise. You can also do heli-horseback riding, heli-yoga, heli-fishing and this summer I think they are launching heli-camping!

  3. Great options! We just got back from Banff/Lake Louise we totally agree that’s it’s awesome in both Winter and Summer. Loved Johnston Canyon (we did the night trek) and we stayed at Baker Creek Chalets – highly recommend.

    Looks like we need to return to try a couple more of the activities you highlighted 🙂

    • Jenn Smith Nelson on said:

      I have never stayed at Bakers but have heard such great things Nicole! I LOVE Johnston Canyon too though the icy hike nearly destroyed me lol.

  4. I love that Via Ferrata and heli-snowshoeing sounds like loads of fun. I’m going to try iceclimbing in Jasper this weekend so will be able to relate better to your experience very soon.

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