Arapahoe Basin is home to the highest-elevation via ferrata in North America with 800 vertical feet of climbing on the ski area’s famous East Wall. The pictures do it justice, but what is the experience actually like?
Get the details on this awesome adventure from Mackenzie Stein, one of A-Basin’s via ferrata guides. She fell in love with A-Basin last winter when skiing it for the first time, and was attracted to a job that gave her the opportunity to be outside above treeline every day. As of early August 2021, Mackenzie has been up on the wall at least 25 times.
What should people expect the day to be like?
It’s a rigorous high-alpine day and gets you into an environment that’s more exposed than what most people are used to. It’s a really good activity for people who are fit but don’t climb, and is a cool way to get exposed to climbing. This is not just going straight up a ladder; you actually do some route finding and are figuring out a puzzle.
The downclimb seems to catch some by surprise. It’s not as physical as the ascent but, after the climb and the emotional arc of summiting, you still have half of your effort left. People are generally worn out but stoked when they finish.
What is your favorite part about climbing and guiding the via ferrata?
The views get better and better as you go, and the climbing gets more exciting the higher you get. People are finding another gear they didn’t know they had. That’s the cool thing about the mountains, in general. The beauty of the landscape can really push you to find something else in yourself. It’s fun to see people hit that stride on their via ferrata day.
On a really good day, if the group is moving well, we can hike to the top of Little Lenawee peak after reaching the summit of the climb. From there you get great views of Greys and Torreys (two 14ers), mountain ranges, and lots of lakes. I can also see my apartment!
How is the A-Basin via ferrata different from others?
A lot of other via ferratas have more traversing and things like bridges, catwalks, and ladders. Ours is a mountain ascent that takes you straight up, and some people are surprised by how much more challenging it is. But people are also really enjoying the quality of the route and commenting on how thoughtfully it was designed.
Tell us a great story from one of your trips.
One of our best days up here was with this guy named Bob, who is 76 and did search and rescue in the Sierras [mountains of California]. He summited Mt. Whitney 62 times out of 113 attempts, and the via ferrata was a great thing for him as a former hardcore mountaineer who can’t do that stuff anymore. He came with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter who said “it’s always an ordeal what we take on with him.” Bob was actually sad when a big storm missed us. [Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.]
What else would you like people to know about A-Basin’s via ferrata?
If you already love the Basin in the winter, the via ferrata gives you a unique perspective on the East Wall [double-black diamond ski/snowboard terrain]. Hiking through Land of the Giants and looking up the chutes gives you an understanding of how much snow we actually need to make that skiable, and the seriously rough terrain that lies beneath in winter.