This article has been adapted from the Winter 2018 print issue of Downdays Magazine. Use the mag finder at the bottom of this page to find a copy in a ski shop near you.
Words & photo: Klaus Polzer
The are many places in the Alps that are perfectly suited for freeriding. Some have become hot spots in the scene while others slumber in obscurity. What’s the cause of this disparate development? It’s often not due to a huge marketing campaign, but rather the enthusiasm of a select few that tips the scales. Sometimes just one individual is enough to change things. That’s what happened in Livigno.
Livigno is among the highest places in the Alps. Surrounded by craggy peaks and expansive slopes with plenty of lifts, it’s a natural freeride paradise. But for a long time, there was a catch: classic off-piste skiing wasn’t allowed at all in Livigno until a few years ago. Of course, people went anyway—most not even aware of the rule. But it remained a constant grey area, and for those who wanted to promote freeriding in Livigno, the situation was a real problem.
The cause for this unusual state of things lay in the particulars of the Italian legal environment and the high-alpine terrain around Livigno. In order to avoid taking on any liability for themselves, local officials issued the ban on off-piste skiing. And for a long time, nothing changed… until Fabio Monti arrived. Fabio is not a famous freerider and doesn’t even come from Livigno. He’s from Como at the foot of the Italian Alps, and he picked a career with a connection to his passion: Fabio Monti is a recognized expert on snow and avalanches.
After several years working at the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos, he started a company with two colleagues that offers snowpack-development predictions worldwide with the help of a proprietary computer model. The company is called Alpsolut, and counts transportation agencies in Norway and Austria among its many clients. But Fabio wanted to do more than sit in front of a computer; he also wanted to satisfy his passion for the mountains. That’s why there’s a base for Alpsolut today in Livigno.
Fabio Monti developed a concept that was met with enthusiasm in Livigno. The central feature is a daily avalanche bulletin that Fabio creates especially for Livigno—making Livigno the only town worldwide with a completely independent avalanche warning service. About a dozen automatic measurement stations were installed around the valley for this purpose, and Fabio works hand-in-hand with the local guides. An avalanche forecast just for Livigno makes sense, because conditions here often vary markedly from the rest of the region, which receives an avalanche bulletin from Lombardy. The local situation is more similar to that of the nearby Engadin valley, but the Swiss bulletin has no legal force in Italy. Fabio therefore cooperates with both of the bordering organizations, SLF and ARPA Lombardia.
Together with a few guides—in particular Giuliano Bordoni, Davide Spini and Alberto Marrazzi of White Line Guides—a freeride concept with designated off-piste zones was developed for Livigno. Within these zones—depending on the daily avalanche bulletins—regular piste rules apply, making freeriding finally legal in Livigno. A heli-skiing operation is also part of the concept, with the end goal not to commercialize freeriding, but to finance Livigno’s own helicopter. This has major advantages for rescue operations as well as avalanche control, since before this development, the nearest helicopter was based in Sondrio, and wasn’t always available.
After just three years, the winds of change can be felt in Livigno. Today there are regular information sessions for freeride guests, various guided offers and free instruction for locals on how to move in off-piste terrain. The local scene has blossomed; there are noticeably more people off-piste with the proper equipment and even a few high-level freeride contests have been held. But there’s an even greater benefit: with improved estimates of avalanche danger and control via helicopter, closures for roads, cross-country pistes and trails can be reduced. So in this regard, Livigno has become more free and accessible, in multiple aspects.
It’s Fabio Monti alone who’s had to sacrifice a bit of freedom. Creating a daily avalanche bulletin before the lifts open, means a very early rise to collect and analyze all the information. But the continuing development of this new freeride paradise is worth it for him, and he’s already training new employees to help spread the workload. Then Fabio too will finally be able enjoy the fruits of his labors more.