Regulars of this blog will know that I originally hail from NW Italy. I was born in Piedmont but spent a lot of time in neighbouring Val d’Aosta (also known as Almost Switzerland). A region of glaciers, woods, gurgling streams, serene meadows and, sadly, shockingly disregard to nature.
Mountains, here, come in two sizes: those that have been turned in ski slopes and those that haven’t yet. When I refer to the sport of skiing I’m not talking about the Jimmy Chin-esque enterprise of climbing a peak and then going off-piste downhill. No, I’m talking about the one requiring plenty of lifts, cable cars, snow cannons and manicured runs carved through woods and meadows.
All this infrastructure is barely visible in winter, when everything is covered by a lovely cover of white powder. For the remaining 8 months of the year, though, it looks like this:
which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is pretty shit (and even shittier to trek on).
I used to spend every summer in a corner of Val d’Aosta called Ayas. An idyllic valley, dug through eons by the Monte Rosa glaciers. An idyll that, however, had been cratered, dug, levelled and chopped down in order to provide as much skiing material as humanly possible. Thirty-seven lifts, a hundred and eighty kilometres of runs, interlinking and bisecting the entire valley and neighbouring ones. So ubiquitous this infrastructure was that, as a kid, I stumbled into metal pylons everywhere I went in the valley. It felt as if every corner of Ayas had to be defaced by the skidmark of a piste running down the side of a peak.
Apart from one.
The Cime Bianche valley is a basin in the north-west of Ayas. Its location – away from the villages and basically poking the big glaciers in the ribcage – saved it from development. I remember trekking there for the first time, aiming for a bivouac (then painted red, now turned gaudy yellow) within spitting distance of the ice; I remember marvelling at its beauty, at is relative remoteness, at how unspoilt and wild it felt. It was indeed the last wild valley.
And so the Cime Bianche valley lived on, its remoteness a guarantee against roads, ski runs and whatnot. Until now, that is.
Spurred on by stagnant revenues, rising costs and by the impact of an increasingly unpredictable weather, the local powers that be have become restless. How to keep the tourist cash flowing and the good times rolling? The only answer is, in their mind, to build more, higher, further. To link the runs of Cervinia with Ayas, to allow skiers to pass from valley to valley. And who cares if the costs are astronomical, who cares if – every year – it snows when it should rain and rains when it ought to snow, who cares if you need untold amounts of water to withen the runs, who cares if tourists are now increasingly demanding (and paying top dollar) for ski-alpinism, unspoilt nature, wildlife. The Cime Bianche must go.
A few people are standing against this. My brother, his fiancée Annamaria and photographer Francesco Sisti have been campaigning for protection of the Cime Bianche valley, to preserve it from becoming yet another ski run and, instead it, open it up to a less destructive tourism. Their activism runs through their photography, recently collated in a book, as well as through events aimed at sharing the beauty of the last unspoiled environment in this corner of Italy.
You can sign their petition to protect the Cime Bianche here.
Almost 10,000 people have done so. If you could join in to tell a local council that there are other ways, other means to make a honest living without ruining the little wild environment that remains it would be great.