A MOUNTAIN STORY
Anyone who goes to the mountains knows who Mountain Guides are, more or less. Professional alpinists, people whose job consists in accompanying people at altitude, on rock, ice and snow.
But “are you” a Mountain Guide or “do you be” a Mountain Guide? The difference between “being” and “doing” is very subtle, but relevant. And in any case, what does it entail to undertake this profession?
A Mountain Guide is an expert climbing partner, who with their experience allows one to go higher up, to expand one’s horizons and to fully experience the mountain. A Mountain Guide is the guardian of the mountain who kindly holds out their hand to whoever approaches the mountains to live an intense experience with awareness.
CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE
“It is like having a calling” Hanspeter Eisendle tells us, Mountain Guide since 1980. Hans lives in Vipiteno in South Tyrol, and he has experienced mountains ever since he was a child, with his parents. “You need a calling because as well as the mountains you need to be interested in people, you need to want to understand them, see things with their own eyes. Accompanying someone in the mountains above all is choosing to share an experience.”
Yvonne Koch comes from Arlberg, in Austria, and has been a Mountain Guide since 2017. “The objectives I have when I go to the mountains on my own are no different from my objectives when I accompany someone as a Guide. Of course the terrain might change as well as the route, the conditions…the constant factor is that in both contexts my aim is to create a beautiful experience, for me and for those coming with me.”
Jason Antin, 38 years old, grew up in Massachusetts, on the east coast of the United States. As a kid he was not interested in mountains: his heart beat strongly for traditional American sports, especially football, a sport in which he trained even up to 60 hours a week. It was after his degree that Jason turned to the mountains: first of all as a volunteer, accompanying adults with disabilities to the mountains, then as a Guide. “Being a Guide is not only a job. It is an attitude. It means being able to listen, and understand people, who more than clients become your guests. You need to understand the people and their stories, being with them and giving them the tools to write a new and memorable chapter together.”
Making decisions is a crucial component to being a Mountain Guide. On various levels: there are practical and concrete decisions: where to go, what to do, what gear to bring… “When I go to the mountains for myself I only bring the minimum, indispensable gear” François Cazzanelli, third generation Mountain Guide from Valle d’Aosta tell us. “It is a minimalist approach because when I am not responsible for anybody else the concept of safety which I follow is different, it is important to be light. When I accompany someone things then change: in the city we create our own habitat and it is a habitat in which we are at the centre of attention. In the mountains though we are guests of harsh terrain and therefore we have to adapt to this playground.”
Tom Rabl comes from Kitzbühel. He has been a Mountain Guide since 2008, profession he shares with his wife. “Safety begins with planning. If you choose an itinerary which is too difficult you are looking for trouble, if you choose one which is too simple you are underestimating those you are accompanying; if you bring too much gear you will get tired, if you bring too little you risk compromising safety…It is a delicate balance, but the key point is always the same: ‘just enough’. Not too much, nor too little.”
You go to the mountains to rid yourself of the superfluous, to concentrate on what truly counts. Mountains are a call to a simpler life, where “simple” does not mean ‘idyllic’, but “essential”. “To be a good guide, you have to see the essential” Jason says. “Simplicity is the key to efficiency, and in the mountains efficiency is everything, whether it is with someone or on your own.”
According to Tom simplicity is the key to beauty: “if you are worried, if you are scared, if you don’t trust the protections, your abilities, or the conditions, you cannot appreciate what surrounds you. You don’t have time because your mental space is filled with a thousand other things. That is why simplicity is so important: because it allows you to concentrate on the experience, on the intensity, on the beauty of the environment.”
“At the end of the day, it is what you carry with you in the backpack” says Yvonne. “You don’t need much to be happy.”