These two towns embrace Mont Blanc from north to south. In order to connect them, men had to employ all of their ingenuity and apply extraordinary engineering feats to unite 20 kilometres (as the crow flies): drilling a tunnel that was to be a hole through the belly of the Top of Europe, building the Vallée Blanche Cable Car that unites Italy and France and passing above the red granite peaks and crevasses of a rough sea of ice.
Courmayeur and Chamonix are two magnetic poles. They attract tourists, mountaineers and adventure lovers but, like real magnets, they maintain their own specific identities and characteristics. We met Rudy Buccella of the Courmayeur Mountain Guide Association to learn about his city and to see the Mont Blanc Massif and the life revolving around it through his eyes – the eyes of an expert mountain guide.
Rudy, what’s the best thing about living at Courmayeur?
The environment surrounding us is truly unique: a narrow valley like a tight wedge that envelops you. Then just as you’re about to smash into the slopes of Mont Blanc, you see Val Ferret to the right and Val Veny to the left. And the paradise goes on forever.
What sets Courmayeur apart from Chamonix?
Chamonix is a city where everything works. It’s never low season there. Courmayeur is a charming mountain village, very picturesque and clean. We might be lacking a bit of spunk on a commercial level but we have a heritage that is nothing short of superior.
How has Courmayeur changed since the Skyway was built?
Mont Blanc was not born with a cable car and there is no doubt that the futuristic Skyway has brought in many more tourists. In terms of media, it has been a huge leap. But you have to remember that Skyway is not Courmayeur. It isn’t even in Courmayeur. The town is always left a bit out of things, for better or for worse.
Chamonix is considered the world capital of mountaineering. How does Courmayeur hold its own?
Chamonix started off before we did. The 1924 Winter Olympic Games were held there. Chamonix and Courmayeur are now connected by the tunnel but before that, they were two separate worlds. Chamonix was easy to get to from any place in Europe. All you had to do was land in Geneva and two hours later mountaineers and tourists were standing at the foot of Mont Blanc! It’s much more difficult to penetrate the Aosta Valley.
The Italian face of Mont Blanc is more challenging. Does that make the profession of mountain guide more challenging as well?
I wouldn’t say that at all. It doesn’t make any difference whether your base is at Courmayeur or Chamonix. Mountain guides work on both sides without any problem. But before the tunnel, on the other hand…
Your work is closely linked to the environment, of which you have uninterrupted contact and unlimited respect. How does climate change influence the two sides of Mont Blanc?
The mountains have changed on all sides and continue to do so. That is clearly visible even when examining them over a relatively brief period of time. Take the last five years for example. The climate is changing too. The winters are drier now. But it doesn’t really matter. We can adapt to that. Now we can find suitable weather conditions to go climbing in certain areas during the year that in the past we couldn’t.
Thanks Rudy. The SCARPA team wishes the best of luck with work to you and to your group of mountain guides in Courmayeur. Have a great summer and keep taking care of this valley and promoting safety and mountain traditions at both the foot and the Top of Europe.