Freeriding was pretty much forbidden in Livigno only a few years ago, but nowadays they are focussing on educating riders about the backcountry instead of prohibiting riding outside of the groomers. They even started their own avalanche forecast, which is unique in the Alps! We spent some time in Livigno last January to shoot some content for the Mountain Academy and we joined the guys from the 'Freeride Project' in Livigno. It was a unique experience that gave us a good idea of the complexity with which avalanche forecasters have to deal with daily. And it's even more complex in Livigno.
One of the driving forces is Fabiano Monti. He worked at the Swiss SLF in the past and as freerider at heart he understands the riders he writes for better than anyone. But he does more than writing avalanche forecasts. Livigno is a high alpine valley that is hard to reach in the winter. You can reach Livigno from Switzerland using a little tunnel or by using the 2300 meter high Passo Foscagno from Italy, which is expected to be open every day. People simply looked at the avalanche forecasts of Lombardia in the past, but nowadays they write the forecasts themselves, completely focussed on Livigno. Which is also easier for the non-Italian speaking visitors of Livigno, because the avalanche forecast is also available in English.
In short, the work of the avalanche service in Livigno comes down to the following three tasks:
Just like other avalanche services Livigno uses a range of information sources for the local avalanche forecast. In that sense, the service does not differ from the other services in the rest of the Alps. In Livigno they use local data, but also data provided by colleagues from Lombardia and Switzerland. For the experts among us: Livigno is also an active user of the SNOWPACK systeem.
To actively inform people is part of prevention. The Freeride Project in Livigno is working hard to inform tourists and the local community. The avalanche forecast is therefore designed as accessible as possible. It is available in four languages and is published on the Internet, available at each lift and in many places in the village. In addition, they use graphical tricks active in the forecast to make it more understandable. Last but not least, there are warning signs on a lot of places and employees are available in the ski area to help tourists and informing them that an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe are required when leaving the slopes. This active inform provides a broad-based awareness and year after year they manage to reach and inform in an increasingly large part of the visitors.
In addition to inform the people, the other job is to prevent major accidents. Freeriders in the terrain are responsible for their own actions, but the avalanche service is doing everything they can with other local services to prevent major accidents. There a lot of avalanche fences on the slopes, they have a map which indicate the most significant and dangerous avalanche paths and they attempt to actively trigger controled avalanches using dynamite. That's done in the ski area before the day even starts, but the mountain pass sometimes needs to be closed for a while.
Using dynamite sounds simple, but requires a lot of preperation. Not only because of nature itself, but also because of strict regulations. Due to the independent nature and remote locatoin of Livigno that part is even worse. They should order their explosives at least five days in advance. Once received, they must be used within a certain period of time. As a snow forecaster I know that it can be quite difficult to make an estimate how much dynamite is needed about 120 hours in advance. What do you do with all that professional "fireworks" when the snow doesn't fall or intensifies? It's a complex job.
It was a great experience to see how serious they take riding powder in Livigno. Safety is a serious issue. And we even rode some lines together. Fortunate for us, we had first hand information where the powder was the best and the risk limited. Powder galore! Have you been to Livigno? And what do you think of this local avalanche forecast?