ETNA – FREERIDING ON ANOTHER PLANET
Press release | Spectacular descents: Down Europe's highest and most active volcano on ash-covered snow
May 26, 2021
Smooth flanks, countless craters and hills, turquoise sea, and the peak of the smoking fire-breather – that's Etna. Europe's highest and most active volcano on the Mediterranean island of Sicily recently caused a stir with multiple eruptions. When 50cm of fresh snow covered the volcano at the end of March and the next eruption put a new layer of ash on the snow, Mammut Skiing athlete Shanty Cipolli ventured on a unique and spectacular freeride adventure.
For most, Sicily is a summer vacation destination, but in winter it's a draw for those looking for that unusual ski touring experience. Italian athlete, Shanty Cipolli is one of them. For his multi-week ski project ArroSkicini, the Mammut athlete was on the road in southern Italy. Seeking breathtaking scenery and exclusive skiing shots, the rare conditions at Etna presented him with a unique opportunity. While the volcano was first covered with 50 centimeters of fresh snow, its activity provided a shower of ash. A thin black blanket, lapilli, Italian for pebbles, settled on the snow. Shanty Cipolli did not hesitate and decided to grab this opportunity:
"We started our tour at the end of March at the foot of Etna, wandering through orange and lemon plantations. At that time, it was hardly imaginable to cross the snow-covered with black lava sand later with the skis. Once at the top, we enjoyed the breathtaking view over smoking craters down to the Mediterranean Sea. I felt the power of nature as intensely as rarely before."
Extraordinary natural spectacle
As a mountain guide aspirant, Shanty knows how to behave on the mountain. However, he lacked the necessary experience to tour an active volcano. That's why volcano guide Nuccio Faro accompanied the tour and ensured the safety of the project team including the photographers and videographers Thomas Monsorno and Lukas Kusstatscher. "This year was extraordinary," Nuccio describes the conditions on the mountain. "Few ski tourers ventured up Etna, there had been 50 cm of fresh snow, and shortly afterward, Etna erupted. A true natural spectacle." Nuccio Faro knows Etna like few others. When he first heard about the project, he grinned:
"These guys are crazy, I thought to myself. They have a choice between all the imposing mountains in the Alps but choose Etna?"
However, Nuccio was quickly convinced by the creative idea, and with his knowledge, he was the ideal companion for the project team.
"Our safe window was short. The volcano was preparing for a new explosive phase. Tremors, bangs, gaseous emissions, and the wind direction were all signals that needed to be constantly checked during the tour."
Life on the mountain
Mongibello – the mountain of mountains – is what the Sicilians call Etna. At 3340 meters, Etna is Europe's highest and most active volcano. For the inhabitants of the Italian Mediterranean island of Sicily, the volcano is both a lifeline and a threat. Exceptionally fertile soils and a natural water reservoir make Etna's environment unique. The minerals in the lava ash, for example, offer ideal conditions for wine making. However, the eerily beautiful power of Etna makes life at the bottom of the volcano unpredictable at the same time. Every year, Etna spits out masses of lava and devastates the landscape. A natural balance describes the Sicilians' incomparable relationship with their volcano – a give and take. "Etna makes people think about the origin of the earth and the birth of life. For me, it's like visiting another planet," says Nuccio, summing up the mountain's power.
Power of nature
The unusual conditions on Etna demanded everything from both the athlete and his equipment. The ascent on the sand-like material that settled on the snow took an enormous amount of energy and time. In addition, Shanty's skis were badly affected by the razor-sharp lapilli. The high-quality jacket and pants from Mammut withstood the conditions, but the occasional hot ash rain left some small holes. "Now the jacket is just a little less waterproof than usual," the pro skier laughs. For him, the Etna adventure was an enriching experience.
"During the ascents, I felt the explosions and vibrations. That gave me a lot of time to think and allowed me to experience nature in its full beauty and power."
Photographer and videographer Thomas Monsorno emphasizes: "The ash on the snow made the descent on skis special. Watching Shanty draw white tracks in the layer of black ash made me realize the special character of Etna. It was a unique freeride experience".
Spectacular insights into the freeride adventure on another planet offers the Behind the Lines Video below!