Etna: Freeriding on another planet

By: Downdays May 26, 2021

Europe’s highest and most active volcano, Mount Etna is known more for its fiery eruptions than for freeriding. But this March, when the mountain unexpectedly received some new snowfall, Mammut Skiing athlete Shanty Cipolli glimpsed a unique opportunity to lay tracks in this otherworldly environment.

With a layer of ash and small volcanic rocks (called “lapilli”) blanketing the new snow, Shanty had the idea of creating some unusual shots, carving across the blackened slopes to reveal the white snow underneath. Conditions on the mountain, however, quickly proved more challenging than he had anticipated.

Nevertheless, with the support of local mountain guide Nuccio Faro, photographer Thomas Monsorno and videographer Kusstatscher, Shanty and crew made the most out of their five-day visit to Etna, capturing some unique shots that you certainly don’t see every day. We caught up with Shanty to learn more about this unconventional freeride expedition.

Freeriding on Mount Etna with Mammut Skiing athlete Shanty Cipolli

Welcome to Etna. All photos: Thomas Monsorno/Mammut

Interview With Shanty Cipolli

What gave you the idea to go skiing on Etna?
The idea to ski on Etna was born together with my friend and colleague Francesco. We were traveling in central and southern Italy for the ArroSkicini ski project when we heard about snowfall on Etna. Due to climate change, this is a rare event at this time of year. We didn’t have to think twice because this chance doesn’t come around every day. And besides, who wouldn’t want to ski on an active volcano?

Mammut Skiing athlete Shanty Cipolli.

Mammut Skiing athlete Shanty Cipolli.

How did you prepare for this freeride adventure?
I train a lot and prepare myself so that I can then enjoy such trips to the full. On Etna, it was necessary to put an additional focus on organization and safety. Although I am a mountain guide and know how to behave in the mountains, I lacked the required expertise about volcanoes and the associated risks. That’s why we teamed up with an experienced volcano guide.

How long did the tour last and what were the challenges?
The tour lasted five days. Since we couldn’t spend the night on the volcano for safety reasons, we had a long walk to the peak every day. In addition to the exceptional snow conditions (ash-covered snow), an added challenge was the wind, which would change its direction in short bursts.

Freeriding Mt Etna with Shanty Cipolli

Think bootpacking through powder is hard? Try bootpacking through volcanic rock.

The snow was covered with a layer of ash. How did that feel when you were skiing?
My first descent felt wrong. After a while, however, I started to enjoy it. I would have liked to ski more technical and faster, but that is impossible on the lapilli (ash pebbles). It felt like sandpaper under my skis.

What was it like to freeride on a still active, recently erupted volcano?
On the descents I was completely focused on not making any mistakes because on the lapilli there can be unpleasant consequences. During the ascents, I felt the explosions and vibrations of the mountain. This gave me a lot of time to think and experience nature in its full beauty and power.

Mammut Skiing athlete Shanty Cipolli skiing on Mt. Etna.

Yeah, someone’s going to need a base grind after this run.

What demands do you place on your equipment for such a tour?
My equipment was put to the test. My pants and jacket were robust enough and withstood the razor-sharp lapilli. However, the ash rain left some small holes. Now the jacket is just a little less waterproof ?. Also critical is the material’s breathability, because due to the wind, the temperature on the volcano changes quickly from hot to cold.

How would you describe the images you captured? What is unique about Etna?
Freeriding on Etna was a crazy experience. The landscape is indescribable, almost like being on the moon. I wanted to play with the contrasts – white on black and vice versa. We succeeded in doing that.

Mammut Skiing athlete Shanty Cipolli sking on Mt. Etna

“Fresh” tracks?

What freeride adventures do you have in mind for the future? Do you already have plans?
I am a very creative person and have many trips in mind that could turn into something as crazy as the Etna adventure! If it were up to me, I would ski all the mountains – because I love to imagine lines and then draw them in the snow. At the moment, I’m particularly attracted to the Altai Mountains in Mongolia. For example, the highest mountain, the Belucha, has never been skied! I’m allowed to dream. ?

Mammut Skiing athlete Shanty Cipolli

Shanty on the lookout for his next objective.