Mountain huts: the desire to start up

Arrangements to ensure visitors safe access to mountain huts, and to allow managers equally safe conditions for running their businesses, have gradually been established in the various Autonomous Provinces and Regions. The CAI has issued a handbook in recent weeks to remind hikers about the regulations in place at national and regional level; to underline the importance of assessing their state of fitness after prolonged inactivity; and to ask them to vary their itineraries and collaborate with mountain hut managers by respecting the rules and booking early. It won’t be an easy summer season, that’s for sure. But the statements we’ve received from the presidents of mountaineering associations show an overwhelming desire to start up again, even with the universal rules about social distancing, the special arrangements to restrict access to fixed quotas, and the compulsory booking system.

Here in South Tyrol/Südtirol

“We’re going to open all our mountain huts”, said Claudio Sartori, president of the South Tyrol CAI. “The conditions applied to us don’t entail any exclusions, even though it will require an effort on the part of both managers and visitors. The business of compulsory bookings is very important, because we always have to keep some places free for anyone needing emergency shelter.” Certainly, a lot will depend on the manager’s own judgement. So, how should he react to someone who hasn’t booked but arrives in the late afternoon wanting a bed for the night, when the reason given is tiredness rather than an obvious emergency? “Clearly, if the car park is only an hour’s walk from the mountain hut, the hiker should be asked to carry on, but if it’s five hours away that’s quite a different matter. In any event, it’s important to ask hikers to behave responsibly when they’re planning their trips. Everyone wants to start up again, both the managers and the hikers. We can do it in a responsible way.”

Georg Simeoni, president of AVS Alpenverein Südtirol, was in general agreement: “We’re ready, with the necessary precautions in place. The important thing is that everyone follows the rules. Obviously, it’s going to be a difficult summer, and we must make clear that a mountain hut is not the same as a restaurant business: we can’t leave people outside. Our managers all want to start up again; they’re well aware of the problems and know that they’ll be doing much less business.” Simeoni said he’s confident with regard to customer relations: “Effective communication will be essential, right from the start, especially regarding the need to book. But I feel relaxed, we’re dealing with mountain people.”

Here in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Silverio Giurgevich, president of the Friuli Venezia Giulia CAI commented on his local situation: “We’ve come out of a period of great uncertainty. Until a few weeks ago it was impossible to travel outside your municipality and the mountains were totally inaccessible, though we’ve made gradual but important advances, and now have the chance to reopen our facilities. The opportunity for managers to access their premises for maintenance work and provisioning was a decisive step forward, and the chance to go and maintain the paths was equally important. The desire to reopen had already been voiced: the people of the mountains want it, because they see the mountain huts not just as places of refreshment and shelter but also as sources of information. Of course, the managers and their employees want it too. We’re getting vital support from the national CAI, which is going to supply a kit with an oximeter, a remote thermometer and a sanitising device, and from the Region, which will be making a non-refundable contribution.” Finally, Giurgevich also appealed for responsibility on the part of hikers, perfectly summarised in the handbook produced by the CAI.

Here in Trentino

Anna Facchini, president of SAT, Società Alpinisti Tridentini, also expressed her desire to start up again. When we spoke to her, the codes of conduct arranged between the Autonomous Province of Trento and the Provincial Agency for Health Services were due to be released, while the rules on shared responsibility remain the same. This most unusual season which will undoubtedly be marked by economic difficulty may, if nothing else, present the opportunity to make people act, once and for all, with greater awareness of the nature and purpose of mountain huts? “There is always a risk of overusing the word responsibility,” replied Anna Faccini. “But it is clear that users need to respect each other and those who provide the services, and to be aware of the rules and of their surroundings.” The focus again is on communication: “We need to make that extra effort to reach everyone.” Have any businesses announced they are not ready to start up again? “At the moment (18 May 2020, ed) no, there is a definite desire to reopen.”

Here in Veneto

“Not only the mountain huts will reopen: CAI’s offices in fact have already reopened, though only for secretarial work and not for applications and courses,” said Renato Frigo, president of CAI Veneto, who has taken action in recent weeks asking for the rules to be made more uniform, especially in the north-east. “It is essential to reopen and encourage people to return to the mountains. But we must all act sensibly and make a cultural effort: booking must become the norm and, in the case of large numbers, we must accept that meals may need to be served in stages. Nobody asked for COVID-19: we are all in the same boat and it is pointless to create tension or conflict. An important point on the bivouacs: these must be used only in emergencies.” We must again stress the importance of communication, not only through social media but also on site: “In addition to the communication measures implemented by the site managers, signs will be put up at the start of each path indicating closure of the bivouacs and that these are to be used only in case of emergency. The CNSAS, instead, will put up signs stating the rules on respect for others: the need to wear a mask and carry a small personal kit, to maintain a safe distance, and to follow rules that may seem trivial but are no less important, like not drop paper handkerchiefs and instead use toilet paper which biodegrades more quickly.”