The Weekly - June 2, 2020 - 22

Field Notes


Rob Coppolillo at
work on the Aiguille
d'Entreves, above
Courmayeur, Italy


in Cham
An IFMGA guide in the biggest mountain town
on the planet deals with his business disappearing and ponders how we can we safely
return to the mountains. By Rob Coppolillo
du Midi, an intro to ski-touring
in the Alps with an emphasis on
food and wine, and a ski-and-sail
mission to the northern archipelago of Svalbard-all of these trips
and every other day of work went
up in smoke. Prime ski-touring
season became coronavirus
quarantine in a matter of days.
This is a guide's life in the time of
This is my first full year in the
Alps. My family and I arrived
in Chamonix, France, on Aug.
21, 2019. Mountain guides see
"Cham" as a mecca of sorts-
"where the beer flows like wine,
where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of
Capistrano," as a not-so-wise man
once told me. By mid-March,
2020, though, the beer and the
wine had dried up, just like the
work. We were actually forbidden
to guide when France went into
confinement on March 17.
OK so, downtime. I can roll
with that.
Not so fast, mon ami Américain! Downtime soon meant staying within 1km of the house and
spending no more than an hour
outside; then, 100m above your
house-max. And, finally, in case
you were scheming something up,
no mountain biking, no parapent-

ing, no rock climbing, no skiing.
Want to drape yourself in a
confederate flag and exercise your
God-given rights? Nice try, bubba.
The mountain police patrolled the
Mont Blanc massif by helicopter and, rumor has it, by drone
too. One local guide was caught
running in the forest a little too
far and a little too high for the
gendarme's liking-and he was
escorted home in the cop car.
Mountain guides pride themselves on managing uncertainty,
adapting to dynamic environments, getting it done. Instead of
rockfall and avalanches, though,
we're now wondering if you can
get COVID-19 from a manky
mattress in a hut or from sharing
carabiners with guests. Guides
on "Facecramp" debate the
ramifications of antibody tests and
estimate the potential viral load of
breathing the wheezing exhalations of a gasping Italian on the
ArĂȘte des Cosmiques. Over social
media channels, the guides share
very little credible information-
it's reassuring that some things
don't change.
It's all become a bit overwhelming. I've pivoted from making tens
of dollars guiding to begging for
writing work. A French guide, my
neighbor next door, now makes
cash as a carpenter. For those of us


used to working with Americans,
we're wondering how to tap expats
living in the European Union as
potential clients. The hotel and
cafe owners here and on the Italian side of the mountain wonder,
Will the gringos ever return?
As of mid-May, we are beginning deconfinement. My French
still sucks. Rather than practice
my verb tenses during lockdown,
I ran loops on the trails around
the house, stretching my hour
to, well-I admit to staying out
"slightly more than an hour."
In addition to my monstrous
French, I emerge from lockdown
with pissed-off knees and only
minimal muffin-top.
Now the guiding communities, both here and in the U.S.,
contemplate a return to work
in the mountains. How do we
protect ourselves and our guests
in the time of COVID-19? When
it comes down to it, even the docs
don't have definitive answers.
For some, not knowing who to
believe means reopen, go to work,

get back to the mountains. For
others, and I count myself in this
camp, the uncertainty means dial
it back and err on the side of caution. As your uncertainty goes
up, you dial back the exposure ...
or at least, I heard that on a podcast while running within 1km of
my house.
So, here I type while the
alpenglow rolls up the Chamonix
aiguilles and dusk eases into the
valley. No work in sight, but with
a few writing gigs to keep me sane
and a long, quiet summer ahead,
I'm looking forward to scoping
some nice itineraries to share with
guests. Someday.
Rob Coppolillo is an IFMGA
licensed mountain guide and the
author of The Mountain Guide
Manual. His next book, The Ski
Guide Manual, to be published by
Falcon Guides, might come out this
fall, but, then again, it might not.
Rob lives in Chamonix, France,
with his wife, Rebecca, and their
twin boys, Dominic and Luca.



The Weekly - June 2, 2020

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