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14 August 2017

Skiers Lament Closure of Iconic Pistes on Italy’s Stelvio Pass Glacier

The slopes of the Stelvio Pass Glacier, located deep within the Alps of Northern Italy, have long been considered a staple of summer-time skiing, attracting amateurs and professionals alike and even serving as a training ground for high-level competitors and Olympic champions. However this year the heatwave that has ravaged much of mainland Europe over the past few weeks has had a notable effect upon the glacier, melting the pistes down to slush and forcing the iconic location to be closed to the public for the first time in 90 years.

The news follows weeks of temperatures in excess of 40°C across much of the country; even atop the glacier which lies 3,450m (11,319ft) above sea level, temperatures have been far above average. This has rendered the slopes somewhat unsuitable for skiers, snowboarders, and other winter sports enthusiasts as the snow and ice deteriorates into wet slush.

Deborah Compagnoni, a former ski champion who now runs a hotel in the area, said of the unfortunate closure, “It’s terribly sad that these pistes, which are a symbol of summer skiing, have become too dangerous because of the lack of snow.”

Another former champion skier, namely Gustav Thoeni, spoke of how the landscape has changed since he first began training at Stelvio Pass in the 70s. He told the Corriere della Sera newspaper, “It would not infrequently snow in July and August. At the time you could use the ski lifts that start at the pass (which lies at 2,758 metres, or 9,048ft), while for the past few seasons skiers have been forced to use those that start above 3,000 metres.

“Unfortunately every day we see crevasses opening up. It really saddens me and it makes me worry about the future of winter sports here. It makes a big impression on you when you see how quickly the landscape of the mountain is changing.”

Another rather distressing effect of the retreating glacier is the subsequent reveal of the bodies of soldiers long-since-passed. These Italian and Austro-Hungarian soldiers are victims of World War I and “La Guerra Bianca”, the White War, which ground on from 1915 until 1918. The bodies are recovered by a specialist alpine rescue team from the Carabinieri Police when they do appear upon the surface, but remain a sight no winter sports enthusiast or anyone else for that matter hopes to find during their excursion; with that in mind I would be tempted to steer clear of the glacier regardless of whether the closure occurred or not.

Hopefully the glacier will recover somewhat following the conclusion of the current heatwave, as it truly would be a shame to lose such a well-beloved training ground for good.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for the written word. Currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor, his time at many UK festivals has taught him the importance of keeping warm.