Mountain huts and sustainability: the CAI-Italian Alpine Club looks ahead

The first joint congress of the “Trails and Cartography” (SOSEC) and “Mountain Huts and Alpine Works” (SOROA) functional units, held in Trento on 14 and 15 January, confirmed the commitment of the CAI to the future of alpine mountain huts, in light of the climate crisis and the changes taking place in mountain tourism.  The ideas that emerged at the national level, particularly on the issues of sustainability and water resource management, find support in the decisions taken by the managers of the UNESCO area last November during the annual meeting of the Mountain Hut Managers of the World Heritage Site held in San Vigilio di Marebbe. 

Il Rifugio Galassi

Ph. Rifugio Galassi

Mountain huts and trails: the current situation 

For this reason, we asked one of the members of the national ‘Mountain Huts and Alpine Works’ functional unit, Francesco Abbruscato of the Mestre CAI section, to comment. He has a unique perspective on the world of mountain huts—in addition to being a member of a CAI functional unit, he also plays the role of manager of the ‘Rifugio Galassi alla Forcella Piccola dell’Antelao’, one of the mountain huts in the core area of the Dolomites World Heritage Site. This is a responsibility he shares with the many volunteers of the Mestre CAI section, who have been ensuring the hut’s self-management for almost 53 years.  

“This is the first time that the units dealing with trails and mountain huts have organised a joint conference. It is an important development that had been ardently pursued by the two presidents Alessio Piccioli and Riccardo Giacomelli, because an interdisciplinary, synergistic action is indispensable, particularly in these two areas which, in the world of CAI, are the areas that have the most direct contact with the region”.  

The progress made in recent years was shared during the conference. Trail Management, for example, created the national land register, which encompasses 112,000 kilometres of trails out of a total of 180,000, and which should be completed by 2024, and Mountain Hut Management digitised the original database with the aim of providing both users and the mountain hut managers with a tool that facilitates informed booking.  

Upstream, however, the absence of a precise definition of the concept of a mountain hut itself remains a major problem. “As CAI national president Antonio Montani recalled”, remarked Abbruscato, “We must be the first to take charge of this and declare which type of structure can be called a mountain hut and which cannot”. 

Standing out for a sustainable approach 

The managers of the World Heritage Site wished to encourage an increasingly sustainable approach that would be consistent with the values on which UNESCO recognition is based. Is this an approach that can also be implemented at the level of the CAI and on a national scale? 

“Absolutely”, Abbruscato confirms, “in fact, it should become what distinguishes and qualifies a CAI mountain hut—a sentinel of the environment and a structure that preserves its cultural and ethical value. Mass use of the mountains is leading many to ask for expansion, which should only take into consideration actual functional needs and certainly not include the creation of high-altitude restaurants. We need to preserve the primary function of the mountain huts”.  

Studying groundwater in order to adapt to the climate crisis 

Another critical issue, which was the focal point of the recent #mountainhutlife campaign conducted with the Mountain Hut Managers, is that of water resources, as managers will probably have to deal with water shortages next summer as well, given the scarcity of (and, in any case, late) snowfall. What guidance did the CAI conference provide regarding this aspect?  

“Since 2022”, emphasises Francesco Abbruscato, “the CAI has financed a series of interventions for the collection of water; now the goal is to study the evolution of groundwater from a geological point of view, in collaboration with universities and the Order of Geologists. Studies on the transformation of permafrost are also already underway; this is a very sensitive issue for those mountain huts that stand on this type of land”.  

CAI and managers share a common purpose 

“I would like to underscore one last, important aspect”, concludes Francesco Abbruscato, “specifically, collaboration with the mountain hut managers, which is well represented by the involvement of the president of the National Coordination of Italian Mountain Hut Managers, Massimo Manavella, and is absolutely in line with the ethics of the CAI. We all work for the same purpose—to promote sustainable visits and an authentic experience in our mountains”.