Saving a corner of wilderness.

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.
Courtesy Andrea Formagnana
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.

Courtesy Francesco Sisti & Altreconomia
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.

Courtesy Altreconomia

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.
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22 Responses to Saving a corner of wilderness.

  1. J.D. Riso says:

    Oh, this is heartbreaking. Certain sports tend to attract selfish, shallow types. Those who seek excitement of the amusement park variety. And for some reason winter sports can be so destructive to nature. My property in northern Michigan borders a bike trail that becomes a super busy snowmobile trail for the winter. Talk about disturbing the peace. And every spring I haul garbage bags full if beer cans out of my meadow. Obnoxious. Anyway, I sure hope the petition will make a difference. At least attract some media attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      It’s interesting how there aren’t any beer cans in summer but there are in winter. Hints at different demographics I guess? Thanks for your words Julie, I’d love for the valley to stay as it is. Maybe more ski alpinists, even BASE jumpers and less ski runs…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bama says:

    We often see how what were once tranquil and idyllic places have now been turned into tourism hot spots in the name of money and ‘development’. I’m sure this is not the only way to boost local economies. In many cases, it’s the local communities who will suffer the most once their villages, valleys and mountains have lost their charm after so many years of exploitation. The developers, on the other hand, will just have to look for another place.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. richandalice says:

    I’m a skier but I signed the petition. There are limits…

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks Rich! I mean nothing stops skiers to do it the old way, climbing & skiing down. Plenty of people do that and more often than not without ending under an avalanche!


  4. It’s such a beautiful area, this is so sad. I love to ski in resorts, but even more to ski tour in the untouched backcountry. I signed your petition. Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

  5. varasc says:

    Thank you indeed Fabrizio!, a precious help and a brilliant, witful reading. Thank you so much! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have gladly signed. It leaves me completely gobsmacked that people don’t get it, still! Don’t get it that we need the wilderness. Don’t get it that we’re ruining the planet. Don’t get it that progress for the sake of it brings about more destruction. I do so hope you (whoever that may be) manage to save the valley.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. lexklein says:

    Done. I wonder when a respect for our wild places will return. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks Lexi. Who knows, maybe this will be it. I’m also following a lot of similar work done in the US by people like Tommy Caldwell and Conrad Anker… hopefully they’ll all succeed.


  8. Hey Loons says:

    Thanks for this post, I never thought before about the negative aspects of skiing and how it rips the soul out of places. I have signed. Good luck to your family in this fight.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I wonder if the pandemic will push the travel reset button. We definitely have to reconsider how we travel and explore to ensure that local communities don’t sell out to a quick tourist dollar, but retain the use and beauty of their environment. Your brother’s photographs are amazing, and I hope they are successful in their quest.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am an avid skier but the development you describe here is outrageous. I have signed the petition to protect the Cime Bianche valley. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ohh, this is important work that you all are doing. I signed the petition most gladly.

    As an ardent (ex) skier it’s been different for me. When I see a ski lift pillar, I’m reminded of good times. Of course, the infrastructure in Slovenia is neatly limited to a handful of ski centres, so they are always crowded. Every year my family used to run away to Italy or Austria for a week to ski in just such a developed resort in a vast, connected network of valleys. Oh, what joy!

    Of course, as you justly say, too much is too much and even if you’re a rich country, or especially if you are one, you should take it easy.

    I had a look at your brother’s photo work and it’s rather spectacular. And of course I love the dogs.

    Liked by 1 person

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