“To manage a mountain hut, you need to look at the big picture”

Mountain hut managers continue to reflect on the best way to do a job that seems destined to change from year to year; the latest impulse comes from the Grigna mountain massif in the province of Lecco, where registrations have just closed for the first “Capanat Academy”, a training course for assistant mountain hut managers that was developed by the managers of the Rosalba and Brioschi mountain huts. This is yet another opportunity for participants to consider the knowledge, skills and competences necessary to manage a high-altitude mountain hut or even just to work there during the season, at least in the Dolomites.

Adaptability, not improvisation

Mario Fiorentini is the president of AGRAV, the Association of Mountain Hut Managers in Veneto and manages the Città di Fiume mountain hut, one of 66 mountain huts in the core area of the UNESCO Dolomites that are sharing a common journey. Among the aims of the communication campaign they are preparing in cooperation with the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation is to correctly portray the complexity and responsibilities of the manager’s role.

Does the initiative on the Grigna confirm that neither managers nor even assistant managers can just wing it?

“A great deal of emphasis has been placed on training in Lombardy; in recent years, the Region has prepared two courses to train prospective managers and now, the Academy has added this initiative on the Grigna for assistant mountain hut managers. This is an important signpost; it means that we’re getting the knots worked out; even in the Dolomites, we find the need to continuously update and augment the skills needed to perform this role.”

In addition to their skills related to current regulations, alpine safety, the geological and environmental context, food safety and kitchen management, managers often have to improvise as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.

“If you manage a mountain hut that’s a four-hour walk from the valley floor, it’s obvious that you have to be able to make do. But true competence lies in the ability to handle crisis situations and the unexpected, not necessarily in the ability to solve problems from a purely technical standpoint. You don’t have to improvise everything, but you do have to know how to manage the period of transition between when the problem arises and when conditions allow you to solve it once and for all. That’s why experience is just as important as training. As with all jobs, school and training courses can provide you with the keys, but knowing how to use them requires practice.”

True competence is “perspective”

What interpersonal skills come into play when dealing with employees and an increasingly demanding clientele?

“There’s no cheat sheet for relationships; you have to be very familiar with the cards you have in your hand and play them at the right time and in the right way, depending on the capabilities or needs of the person in front of you. I’ll give you an example. People coming up to work at a mountain hut for the first time often do their jobs with care and precision, but they need to be taught to keep their eyes open when priorities suddenly change, and a response is required not from the individual but from the whole team.”

In short, the true specific competence of the manager and his assistants is “perspective”…

“A panoramic perspective, I’d say. It’s like sailing; you’re always relating with the same people, and they all have to do their work at the same time, according to and in service of the work of everyone else.”

Keeping an eye on the weather

Coming up to the next season, won’t the snow that has fallen serve to extend self-sufficiency in terms of water this summer?

“It’s going to be tough. The quantities are too low, and even if it were to snow heavily in March or April, the snow would melt quickly at the first signs of spring without feeding the aquifers.” 

Ph. Rifugio Città di Fiume