Outdoor enthusiasts usually head to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Colorado to ski and snowboard its towering slopes. But now there's another reason to visit with the launch of a new via ferrata. The team at Arapahoe say it's the highest in North America and it's already welcoming climbers after opening last week.

If you need a break away from the home office desk, Arapahoe Basin's the ticket. This Rocky Mountain region provides opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, and mountain yoga. For families, the park's aerial adventure and disc golf courses only add to the fun. But now there's another reason to visit, a via ferrata—or iron road—up the gnarly terrain of the East Wall summit.

Read more: When to visit Colorado

Climbers on the via ferrata summit
Everything is wide-open and unrestricted up there ©Ian Zinner/Arapahoe Basin

Invented in World War I as a way to move troops, weapons and supplies through the Dolomite mountains in Italy, via ferrate are popular throughout Europe. There are only a few in North America and the team at Arapahoe Basin claim this one is the highest at 12,900 feet, and is a few feet short of the world's highest in Mount Kenya and Mount Kinabalu.

It's a protected climbing course with carefully placed steel rungs and handholds, and you wear a harness and clip into cables in case you slip. It makes mountain climbing accessible as you don't need any climbing experience to take part. In fact, you don't need to know anything more than how to climb a ladder. That said, you should have a good level of fitness and be acclimatised to the altitude.

Climbers ascend the via ferrata
You don't need any climbing experience to take on the via ferrata ©Ian Zinner/Arapahoe Basin

"People are coming from all over to experience it, and we see a lot of adventurous families doing it together – including sometimes three generations at once," said Katherine Fuller, Arapahoe Basin's communications manager. "For some, it’s one of the craziest things they’ll ever do. For others, it whets their appetite for mountaineering and rock climbing.

"Everything is wide-open and unrestricted up there; you can see for miles and feel completely out in the wild," she added.

Read more: Top 5 best hikes in Colorado

Climbers set off on the via ferrata
The tour includes a scenic chairlift ride, gear rental and a guide ©Ian Zinner/Arapahoe Basin

Climbing the via ferrata is done via organized tours. You can choose a half-day hike to an abandoned mine or, a full-day hike to reach the ridgeline at 13,000 feet.​ Each tour starts with coffee and pastries at morning check-in and includes a scenic chairlift ride, transportation to the base route and all necessary equipment and training.

A half-day tour (roughly four hours) costs $175 per person. Full-day tours (roughly six hours) cost $225 per person. Both tours include gear rental and a guide. A gourmet charcuterie lunch is included in the full-day tour to eat on the summit, prepared fresh daily by the main restaurant.

If you take on the via ferrata be sure to bring a backpack, warm layers, a rain jacket, sunscreen, water, whatever snacks you'll need and make sure you're wearing sturdy shoes. For more information, see here.

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