Alpinism gets recognition from UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of humanity

Posted by Katy Dartford on 18/12/2019
Photo: UIAA/Monica Dalmasso

Alpinism has been added to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). But what will it mean for those who take part in the sport, mountain guides or those who live in an alpine environment? Katy Dartford reports.

Alpinism has been added to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). This recognition is aimed at ensuring universal recognition of the practice of mountaineering - the intrinsic values, knowledge, skills, written legacies - through an international label.

It will guarantee a commitment from governments and their associated bodies to preserve this rich cultural heritage, and comes after a nine-year inscription process by various alpinist communities in France, Switzerland and Italy, headed by the municipalities of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, Courmayeur (Italy) and Orsières (Switzerland).

But what will it mean for those who take part in the sport, mountain guides or those who live in an alpine environment?

I spoke to Olivier Greber, president of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, the oldest mountain guide association in world.

“Having this recognised is recognising the values of mountain climbing. The values of effort and liberty and also the values of being together and sharing.”

"This was a big project," he says. "We worked with Courmayeur in Italy and Orsières in Switzerland too.”

Greber said it was also about remembering the past. The founding act of modern alpinism dates back to Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard’s first ascent of Mont Blanc from the resort of Chamonix in 1786, although traces of mountaineering date back to antiquity.
"Savoie was before part of Italy, and even the first rules for the guides were set out by the prince of Sardinia."

The announcement in Chamonix. Photo: Katy Dartford. 

The UNESCO registration stresses the close relationship between intangible cultural heritage, the environment and sustainable development. It aims at strengthening the shared responsibility for the protection of mountain spaces.

Christian Jacquier, chairman of the Mountain Guide Association of France, sees this as the main impact of the inscription.

“It won’t change the profession itself because there are so many possibilities for working as a mountain guides. Also we are very good at adapting the practice.”

For Jacquier the inscription is symbolic: “It means that after the nomination we have to implement a plan of action. It will encourage all participants of this initiative to continue to work together in a very practical way in particular regarding climate change which is a very important subject.”

The plan of action plan involves working closely with climate change experts and reporting what the guides observe in the mountains.

“We see events, important events, and we can describe it. We can send information, via smartphone, for their database,” Jacquier said. “And so we increase their knowledge and then we have feedback from them in terms of what's going on and some recommendations (of where to climb). So, it's a kind of exchange.”

Towards this, the Mont Blanc Cross-border Conference, a political consultation structure between France, Italy and Switzerland are about to launch the new "Mont Blanc Observatory,” an online database with multiple indicators on climate change. It will be a tool to "understand the territory to plan for the future “.

Mayor of Courmayer, Stefano Miserocchi says the UNESCO inscription its important in its a recognition of the mountain lifestyle.

“Now is time when Alpinism is growing and from today we are thinking about the future of alpinism, how to protect it and bolster it for the future,” Miserocchi said.

“Because there are so many people living in alpine territory we need to find out what is the best situation for them, because of the weather conditions and climate change. Miserocchi had first-hand experience of this when he signed an order closing roads in the Val Ferret on the Italian side of Mont Blanc and evacuated mountain huts after experts warned that part of the Planpincieux glacier on the Grandes Jorasses peak, could collapse onto Courmayeur.

“We have to find a new future for climbing, mountains and Alpinsim, of how to live in mountains, to work with them and to stay in harmony with them,” Miserocchi said.

“UNESCO is a promotion of alpinism and it will open the mountains for everyone, so you can run walk and climb but the most important thing is to protect the mountains because it is a very, very delicate situation, and we have to do something very quickly.”

Françoise Jaquet is the President of the Swiss Alpine Club, founded in 1863 and the largest mountaineering club in Switzerland.

“For us, UNESCO is important so we can enable people to go further to the mountain, but also because this will help to protect the mountain and nature.”

Jaquet says more and more people in Switzerland are interested in going to the mountains and she thinks they need to be better trained.

“Because nowadays many people go (to the mountains) just like that. They don't know much about technique and protection of the environment. So our goal is all sorts to provide, to train them, to get their attention, to get training on these aspects.”

The success of the Alpinism bid bodes well for the aim of getting the Mont Blanc Massif itself on the UNESCO World Heritage list, under the “cultural Landscape.’ application, which began in 2017.

This bid highlights the specific relationship that has existed and evolves through the centuries between man, mountains and high mountains in the Mont Blanc Massif .

Currently experts are working on the definition of the V.U.E, universal outstanding value, necessary to file the nomination dossiers to the tentative Lists of French, Italy and Switzerland.

READ MORE:

UIAA news report

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage details
 


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