Via Ferrata History PDF Print E-mail

With the collaboration of Philippe L and Gerard Papandreou

Where the via ferrata come from? 

The via ferratas were NOT born in Italy as many people think or is published on websites!
In fact, the first generation of via ferrata was born in Austria in 1843 with the first ever via ferrata in the Hocher Daschein. In 1869, a new via ferrata route was created in the Studli. This one connected the two easy peaks of the Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria.

Only in 1914, were the first via ferrata routes created in the Dolomites. The vie ferrate were created by the Italian army. In fact, the Italian troops built these routes in the Dolomites to help move troops and equipment (including artillery!) from one side of a mountain to the other.

When the war was over these vie ferrate were abandoned by the army and local people took care of them. Recognising the value of this trend, the “Italian Alpine Club” created new routes to attract tourists.

The via ferrata was a great way to climb impressive cliffs, rocks and mountains without alpine experience and climbing skills.
Some vie ferrate (plural) in the Dolomite are merely a walk in the mountain for 7 to 77 year olds with no special skills required. Some of them don’t even have a cable, a ladder, or a hand rail.

The Real Name:   Via Attrezzata

The name Via Ferrata came from Via Attrezzata (equipped route). This referred to routes totally secured by hand rails, ladders, cables or life lines, (today a standard for any via ferrata). The term Attrezzata was pronounced like “ferrata” so today we refer to via ferrata!
Again, many English people or internet websites translate “via ferrata” as a sort of “Iron path”.. The exact translation should be: “fully equipped route”.

The new Via Ferrata

In France, the first via ferrata was built in 1989 in the high Alps. The new concept brought fun and discovery. The via ferratas were built to have fun and to provide a new experience in the mountains. France can be considered as the “official centre” for contemporary via ferrata sport styles.

Today, you can climb several hundred different via ferratas on the five continents (and we are trying to catalogue them in ViaFerrata.Org). They are mostly very different from the first Dolomite via ferrata. Adventure is the motto. The trend is to create longer footbridges, faster and longer zip lines, crazy ladders with 360 or 720 degrees turns.

For Free?

Some fans may regret the huge amount of material used to create a via ferrata route, and sometimes the impressive amount of money invested to create them. In Europe, most of the via ferrata are free of charge for climbers. In the USA a more commercial approach may kill the real spirit of the via ferrata (some owner charge up to $30 per person which is a robbery!).

Future trends

In the next 5-10 years, no doubt we will see new trends in constructing new via ferrata routes; but we don’t forecast giant new footbridges or amazing new installations… Instead a more environment-friendly and “green” via ferrata with less gear, fewer footholds and hand rails will appear. But we have no doubt you will see more and more new via ferratas for kids and for families.