June 01, 2023
Reimagining mountains to stop their exploitation: the voice of Outdoor Manifesto
Insight by Michela Grasso, SPAGHETTIPOLITICS
On July 3rd, 2022, an avalanche of ice and debris suddenly detached from the Marmolada glacier in northeast Italy, killing eleven people. The following week, different newspapers devoted several articles to the disastrous situation of Italian glaciers. Attention to the degradation of the glaciers was short-lived and, after a few days, the news and insights moved from the front pages of the newspapers to the last. The lack of attention to the protection of the mountains by traditional politics, the decision to continue with the construction of the facilities for the Milan Cortina 2026 Olympics, and the silence on the 96,840,000 m³ of water (equivalent to the annual consumption of water of a million people) used to produce fake snow in 2022, seem to suggest that the situation in the mountains has drastically improved. But, is it true?
The future of humanity depends on mountains: 60-80% of the planet's springwater resources come from the highlands, water used for agriculture, and the production of sustainable energy. Despite their importance to human survival, mountains often take a back seat in the Italian debate on the climate crisis. However, a growing number of activists are starting to bring them into the center of the public debate. “I first realized the scale of the climate crisis in my late twenties. It was a time when we started hearing about global warming, but the topic was largely ignored», Luca Albrisi, a founder of Outdoor Manifesto, tells Voice Over Foundation, «I was on the Presena glacier, where I had been ten years earlier for a ski instructor course, and there I had a moment of shock, realizing that the glacier had practically halved».
At the beginning of May 2023, the ski slopes Office of the Autonomous Province of Trento requested "A change in the classification of the Presena slope from red to black" due to the increasingly accelerated melting of the glacier. Despite covering the glacier with geotextile sheets to protect it from the sun's rays, its area continues to decrease at a rate never recorded before.
Luca Albrisi, 41, has lived in Trentino for more than twenty years. Born and raised in Milano, he was passionate about the mountains from an early age, and, after high school, he left the city behind. Today he lives in Val di Sole, where he produces documentaries and dedicates his time to activism. In 2019, he was among the first signatories of Outdoor Manifesto, a manifesto born from the need to radically change our relationship with the mountains to protect them, «Outdoor Manifesto was born from the perception that there was a divide between outdoor communities and the awareness of environmental issues related to their activities. By outdoor experiences I mean a range of activities, from extreme mountaineering to snowboarding, but also to mountain walking. Often, in the outdoor community, we focus on performance, forgetting about the environmental aspect. For us, the founders of Outdoor Manifesto, outdoor activities lead to greater awareness and feeling of belonging to the environment, they put a biocentric vision at the center and allow us to resize ourselves in the face of the greatness of the mountain».
Outdoor Manifesto is an association that is committed to bringing these issues to the world of the outdoor community. On March 12, 2023, Outdoor Manifesto organized a series of mountain mobilizations in different areas of Italy, to reflect on the need to re-imagine winter. «Overcoming mental and economic superstructures requires an enormous effort of re-imagination», explains Luca, «We are used to seeing tourism and the exploitation of the mountains as the only source of livelihood for mountain communities. It is difficult to understand that this model is now failing, for social, environmental, and economic reasons. This is why we need to make a collective effort to reimagine winter and our relationship with the mountain».
During the 2022 winter season, the demand for artificial snow to cover ski slopes has increased, and it is estimated that in the coming years, the need for water to create artificial snow could increase between 50% and 110%, depending on the area. The water used is taken directly from mountain streams, damaging the ecosystem and reducing the supply of drinking water. Furthermore, the construction of water basins and artificial snow machinery leads to significant environmental changes that impact the mountains’ flora and fauna. Reimagining winter from a perspective far from that of consumerism, profitable exploitation of the mountains and entertainment means guaranteeing the survival of fragile ecosystems.
«We are not anti-skiing facilities», explains Luca, «We are against the construction of new ones, and we believe that those already present can be improved to be sustainable. We often talk about how skiing facilities offer work to mountain communities, when in reality most of the time it is a question of adding a single one to a series of already existing installations, giving work to a few more people, without thinking about the fact that in a few years these jobs will no longer exist. In an Alpine valley, where temperatures continue to rise and where water reserves will decrease, water basins for artificial snow will not be as important as those for agriculture, and then it will be difficult to continue skiing like today. I'm interested in understanding how to make a mountain work sustainably, and this implies radically changing our perspective. Building new ski facilities at the moment does not make sense».
In Italy, there are 249 abandoned skiing facilities, forgotten skeletons in the middle of the Alpine and Apennine landscape, an image that seems to come directly from a dystopian future. They are all mapped in the Legambiente report "Different snow, winter tourism in the era of the climate crisis" (2023), an obituary list coming from a not-too-distant past, short-lived iron creatures, often built before the 1990s, when the desire to make a profit and eat the mountains overshadowed the disfigurement of the territory. There are three ski lifts in Alberola in Liguria, built in 1972 and closed in 2005 due to lack of snow; a cableway in Scerscen in the province of Sondrio, built-in 1986 for summer alpine skiing on the Scerscen glacier, closed less than 10 years later, in 1993, due to lack of snow and profits; there is even a ski lift on Etna, built in 2004 and never operational, again due to the absence of snow. In addition to the abandoned skiing facilities, some are temporarily closed: 138 throughout the country. In total 387 chair lifts, ski lifts, hotels, cable cars, etc. whose construction has disfigured and permanently marked the territory, abandoned after a few years, sometimes without ever having even been used.
«This year, after a long time, I spent a day skiing with the lifts», Adele Zaini, 26, activist of Fridays for Future and one of the founders of United Mountains of Europe tells Voice Over Foundation, «I realized just how much skiing facilities are wounds for the mountain: tongues of white, precise and perfect, in the middle of naturally irregular woods».
Adele, born and raised in Milan, has recently graduated in climate physics and wants to dedicate her life and her efforts to safeguarding the mountains. Her passion was born during childhood, with her mother's stories of great mountaineers, on big mountain walls. «All my values, principles, my way of living and seeing the world, the mountains taught me. Fatigue, adrenaline, fear, the understanding of what is necessary and what is superfluous. The mountain removes the veil of consumerism from the eyes, strips need down to the essentials. What you learn in the mountains, you take home».
Adele says that, in her experiences in the mountains, she was able to get to know different alternative models to the common consumerist and destructive ones, «In Val di Rabbi, in Trentino, there are sensory and experiential paths that cross the woods, to be carried out in silence, to find a connection with the surrounding nature». The Adamello Park house, in the province of Brescia, is another alternative example, a space "for meeting and discussing mountain culture, a space for territorial promotion in which to build paths to enhance local potential and resources", as described in their site. At the Casa del Parco Adamello, meetings, excursions, and get-togethers are organized, with the desire to detach yourself from the ski monoculture that characterizes the Italian mountains. There are alternatives, such as the ten mentioned in the Legambiente report, which recounts the virtuous changes implemented by various mountain communities. From those who have chosen to ban snowmobile ascents to refuges, as did the Dibona refuge in Cortina d'Ampezzo, to those who have decided to focus on snowshoes instead of skis, as in the Beigua Regional Natural Park.
The consumerist model leaves behind increasingly empty communities, destroyed ecosystems, rubbish, and skeletons of a bygone age, wounds that are difficult to heal. While the mountain inevitably changes, it is difficult to change the approach to tourism and the relationship between man and nature. It is hard to imagine an Italy where you can visit Etna, the Apennines, or the Alps, without necessarily disfiguring the environment. «Redefining our relationship with the mountains means redefining the meaning of adventure», concludes Adele. Re-imagining winter beyond the capitalist model, based on infinite growth and easy profit, means re-imagining our future and our relationship with nature. No longer a relationship of domination, where the human being seeks the illusion of being able to bend nature to his will, but a relationship of learning, care, and community.