How does the climate crisis affect mountain hut management? How will the roles of mountain huts and their managers change over the next 20 years? What are the limitations of our facilities? These are just some of the questions that thirty mountain hut managers asked during the seventh annual meeting promoted by the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation in the ‘core’ area of the Dolomites World Heritage Site. Following on the heels of Predazzo, Bressanone, Val di Zoldo, Primiero San Martino di Castrozza and St. Vigil, and with an online interlude during the Covid pandemic that was virtually hosted by the Rifugio Pordenone in Cimolais, the seventh edition took place in Pieve di Cadore, in the hall of the Magnificent Community of Cadore, on 16 and 17 November.
#Mountainhutlife goes live and takes to the road
Among the projects that the managers have decided to pursue is #mountainhutlife, the communication campaign promoted by the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, developed in collaboration with the managers themselves and aimed at helping new visitors to the mountains (who are becoming more and more numerous and less and less aware) understand the difficulties involved in running a mountain hut, beginning with those difficulties exacerbated by the climate crisis, such as water supply.
What’s new is that the managers, with the coordination and support of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, will promote a single calendar of summer events during which they will inform participants about the most concrete aspects of life in a mountain hut, just like in the campaign videos that have already been widely circulated on the web over the past two years. The programme will also feature in-depth insights into geology, landscape and culture from qualified guests.
“The issue of climate change is at the forefront of our minds”, comments Mario Fiorentini, manager of Rifugio Città di Fiume. “Water shortages and changes in the regional morphology are among the aspects that we have to pay more attention to, in order to adequately inform our guests”.
“We have very different experiences, but the problems are often similar”, adds Elena Zamberlan, manager of Rifugio Pian de Fontana. “Users sometimes find it hard to understand where they are, and we managers can do a lot to give correct information about the type of mountain hut they are visiting and the services it can or cannot offer them.”
Crisis through the eyes of science
Also taking part in the first day’s workshops were the Chairperson of the Veneto section of CAI, Renato Frigo; the Chairperson of the Veneto College of Alpine Guides and Mountain Leaders, Enrico Geremia; and the delegate of the Belluno Dolomites Alpine Rescue Service, Alex Brattin.
The morning was dedicated to an excursion to Roccolo Park in the company of geologist Emiliano Oddone and to the natural and archaeological area of Lagole (Calalzo di Cadore), the Fort of Monte Ricco and the Palace of the Magnificent Community itself. Speakers in the afternoon included Domenico Chiesa, deputy mayor of Pieve di Cadore, and Matteo Da Deppo, who described the topicality of a historical institution such as the Magnificent Community of Cadore of which he is director.
The floor was then passed to the speakers of the session dedicated to the climate crisis and the management of tourist flow in protected areas: Michele Da Pozzo, director of the Dolomiti d’Ampezzo Natural Park, offered his perspectives on managing an area of particular value such as the one administered by the Regole d’Ampezzo. Roberto Barbiero, a climatologist from the Provincial Agency for Environmental Protection of the Autonomous Province of Trento, broadened the scope to explore data on global warming and international strategies for mitigation and adaptation to the climate crisis. Anselmo Cagnati, a mountaineer and cryosphere expert who has worked at ARPAV’s Arabba Avalanche Centre for many years, offered an overview of the areas of greatest distress in the Dolomites, with particular attention to the situation of glaciers and permafrost, and the phenomena of landslides and debris flows.
Commitment to the future
In keeping with tradition, the second day of workshops was entirely devoted to a discussion among the managers on their different experiences and an attempt to understand future scenarios in light of the necessary adaptation to the climate crisis and the management of tourist flow that, in some cases, have reached a saturation point.
One thing that emerged from the debate was that, in addition to structural limits, there are also ’emotional’ limits to be managed: the excessive demands of a clientele unaware of the difficulties can risk undermining the serenity of a role that has hospitality at its core. Many speakers also emphasised the need for constructive dialogue with the institutions to define the qualities and function of mountain huts, which cannot be compared with facilities on the floor of the valley, including from a regulatory stance.
There was widespread concern not only about the management of water supplies, but also, for example, the maintenance of trails and taking responsibility for providing information on the safety of slopes in the face of sudden extreme events that can change the topography of valleys in a matter of minutes.
What prevails, as always, however, is a desire to continue to serve as a point of reference for visitors to the World Heritage Site and for personal commitment. “This year again, we will propose new initiatives in cooperation with the managers,” concludes UNESCO Dolomites Foundation director Mara Nemela. “These events will be aimed at getting people to understand the sober hospitality of the mountain hut, no longer through videos alone, but also by meeting with the alpine visitors face-to-face and offering a reflection on World Heritage, geology and the climate crisis.”
This activity is part of the project “Capacity building. Strengthening the social and regional capital of the Dolomites World Heritage Site (WHS) for lasting and sustainable development of local communities”, established with the support of Fondo Comuni Confinanti.