Some have called the Via Ferrata “a challenge course on steroids”, but I beg to differ. First of all, it is the negative connotation of steroids that I don’t like. The Via Ferrata is big and it’s strong, yet it is somehow humble and graceful. No steroids necessary. In addition, is the term “challenge course” necessary? The Via Ferrata here at Nelson Rocks wasn’t built with the purpose of “challenge course” in mind. Most of us are familiar with challenge courses. We probably know someone who has been to one or we’ve at least heard the stories of walking skinny cables, jumping off telephone poles and being caught by teammates below.
Challenge courses are great and have a long, rich history of providing the young and old alike the opportunity to step beyond everyday norms. Challenge courses can be facilitated to focus on what is relevant for the group and their goals. Mostly, it’s the idea of going beyond what was previously thought impossible, having trust and faith in oneself to overcome personal boundaries, as well as learning to trust and have faith in others, overcoming social boundaries.
So, what then is the Via Ferrata? Doesn’t the Via Ferrata conjure up the same types of feelings? Do we not step beyond everyday comforts while out on the Iron Way? Do we not put our trust and faith into others to keep us safe while we’re hundreds of feet in the air? Is it not a challenge course? It certainly has a lot of similarities.
We recently agreed for the first time to do some actual team building on the Via Ferrata. We worked with a girls high school basketball team who had done a traditional challenge course the year before. They wanted to do something a little different this year and it was recommended to the coach to try out our Via Ferrata. So, naturally we discussed with the coach what his goals were and what our capabilities and limitations would be. He was looking to help develop and empower some of his up and coming leaders. We couldn’t guarantee everyone was going to be able to be successful in the way of finishing the route. The goal wasn’t going to be winning; it was going to be about support. Sometimes our most influential leaders aren’t the ones who score the most points but are the ones who give the most support. This was going to be the foundation to focus on. We quickly realized the level of compassion the teammates had for one another. It turned out that this team was inspiring in how they supported one another and it was a lot of fun for us as guide facilitators.
The Via Ferrata speaks to everyone in its own way. As guides, we do very little in the way of facilitating the experience for most groups and often let the mountain speak for itself. We act as support, we’re there to help folks get back down, metaphorically speaking, to a safer place. We do not believe in encouraging folks to continue if they are not comfortable with where they are physically and or emotionally. We share in the accomplishments of wise decisions, whether or not the route was completed or not. Because individuals manage their own safety equipment, this “self-risk management” is what brings forth true accomplishment.
We look forward to working with more groups who would like to take it a step further. There are many great lessons to be learned while out on the Via Ferrata, some are very obvious and straight forward, while others are not so obvious but are often just as relevant and crucial to the experience. No matter the reasons for choosing to climb the Via Ferrata we hope that it is a rewarding experience, we hope people find out more about themselves and those around them, and we hope people rise to the challenge that is right for them. We look forward to going beyond our own boundaries.
Special thanks to Coach Hartley and the team from Fort Defiance.
December 9, 2011
Teambuilding on the Via Ferrata