The “Scoiattoli di Cortina” (Squirrels of Cortina) constitute a community of mountaineers and climbers situated in Cortina d’Ampezzo. This group, alongside the renowned “Ragni di Lecco,” stands out as one of the most celebrated Italian mountaineering associations. While not all members hold professional climber status, such as being mountain guides, a commendable climbing track record is a prerequisite for admission into this esteemed organization.
The international recognition of the Scoiattoli di Cortina took a significant leap in 1954 when Squirrel Lino Lacedelli triumphed over the unconquered peak of K2. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that the Scoiattoli had already earned a reputation among experts as exceptional climbers well before that milestone year.
The Squirrels of Cortina, a tradition that continues
Since the group’s founding, the Squirrels have been noted for their numerous mountaineering feats, particularly in the Dolomites, where they opened new climbing routes on walls previously thought to be inaccessible.
Among the many first ascents, here are a few routes that have become classics: the Costantini-Apollonio on the wall of the Tofana di Rozes Pillar, the Lacedelli on the Cima Scotoni, the Primo Spigolo on the Tofana di Rozes, the Spigolo Strobel on the Rocchetta Alta di Bosconero, and the routes of the Cinque Torri. But there are countless others, as one can see by searching for climbing guides.
The routes opened by the Squirrels number in the hundreds, not only in the Dolomites, but in mountains all over the world, from Greenland to the Atlas Mountains of Africa, the Andes, and the Himalayas.
The association was founded by ten young people from Cortina in 1939 and is probably the oldest mountaineering club in Italy. At that time, there were two requirements for joining the group: being of Cortina origin and having residency there, as well as practicing skiing. The group’s original name was “Society of Rock Climbers and Skiers, the Squirrels.”
All the founders were skilled skiers; two of them, the Alverà brothers, Albino and Silvio, competed in the Olympics and won numerous international competitions. Another legendary Squirrel, Carletto Alverà, even represented Italy in three disciplines: Alpine Skiing, Cross-Country Skiing, and Ski Jumping! It seems appropriate to mention the names of the ten founders, thanks to whom the Squirrels of Cortina have become and continue to be an exceptional mountaineering group.
Here they are: Albino Alverà «Boni», Silvio Alverà «Boricio», Romano Apollonio «Nano», Angelo Bernardi «Alo», Ettore Costantini «Vecio», Siro Dandrea «Cajuto», Giuseppe Ghedina «Tomasc», Luigi Ghedina «Bibi», Bortolo Pompanin «Bortolin», Mario Zardini «Zesta».
In the following years, many climbers joined the group; from the year of its foundation to date, over a hundred climbers have worn the legendary red sweater. Yes, for those who don’t know, the members of the group are recognizable by a white squirrel embroidered on the left sleeve of a red sweater. This logo is inseparably linked to many mountaineering achievements, and later the squirrel logo was adopted as the trademark of the Municipality of Cortina d’Ampezzo.
I would like to point out a small mistake that is quite common nowadays, which is to associate the figure of the Scoiattolo with that of the Alpine Guide. In reality, as I mentioned at the beginning, the Scoiattoli and the Guides are two different figures.
Not being professionals, the Scoiattoli are not authorized to accompany people in the mountains. Not because they don’t have the skills, but simply because they do not have any official qualifications to perform a profession reserved for guides, who instead must undergo numerous courses and exams before obtaining the Professional Mountain Guide diploma.
In the context of the Gruppo Guide Cortina, nearly all the guides are also affiliated with the Scoiattoli, although not every member of the Scoiattoli holds the official Mountain Guide qualification. In my own experience, I joined the Scoiattoli di Cortina with pride in 1981. It was only a few years later, in 1984, that I successfully acquired the designation of a professional Mountain Guide. I vividly recall my earnest desire to be embraced by the group—a sought-after acknowledgment that demanded the demonstration of skills and a genuine passion for the craft.
At that time, sport climbing had not yet entered the Ampezzo mountaineering scene, but the winds of change were beginning to blow, and it was then that I started traveling abroad with some friends to discover a new and wonderful way of climbing.
At the same time, I dedicated myself to the best of my abilities to climbing the great classic routes of the Dolomites, to enrich my resume and be able to wear the coveted red sweater. In fact, at that time, the mentality of the Scoiattoli was not yet ready to reward sports climbers.
Only in the early 1990s were some very strong sport climbers admitted to the group, including Luca Zardini “Canon,” who did not, however, practice mountaineering.
In addition to going to the mountains for pleasure, the Scoiattoli of Cortina have always carried out the challenging activity of mountain rescue. Two particular rescues made headlines for their complex logistical challenges and the daring of the rescuers, one in 1961 and one in 1963, on the Cime di Lavaredo in winter.
At that time, rescue operations often took place in extreme conditions and were much more challenging than they are today, when we can rely on helicopters and have more advanced techniques and equipment.
Nowadays, the legendary group is still active: the Scoiattoli are involved in multiple activities, ranging from the promotion of mountaineering to voluntary alpine rescue, to the organization of sports events.
Except for Emma Franceschi, the first woman admitted to the Society in 1941, for many years the Scoiattoli group was made up only of men. It wasn’t until 1987 that Mariaclara Walpoth “Iaia” became a member of the group. Those were times of innovation, sport climbing was arriving, and the mentality of young climbers was changing. Today there are five women in the Scoaittoli association.
Currently, the Scoiattoli group of Cortina has over 90 members, from the youngest, at full strength, to others who are now elderly… But the passion for the mountains certainly knows no age limits! And if the “old” ones with their achievements have contributed to making the history of mountaineering, the young Scoiattoli are certainly not standing still.
I can mention, for example, Massimo Da Pozzo “Mox”, who has opened numerous modern routes of very high difficulty, which have become classics for lovers of high grades, or Luca Zardini “Canon”, eight times Italian climbing champion, a second place overall in the World Cup, in addition to numerous awards in international Masters. Even if it is true, unfortunately, that time flies, and even if so young they are no longer, the new generations are ready to keep the name of the legendary Scoiattoli Group of Cortina high.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the group’s foundation, the Scoiattoli wanted to document their history with a magnificent film. The work, masterfully executed by Francesco Mansutti and Vinicio Stefanello, produced with great passion, was released in 2009 under the title “Rosso 70”. The authors deserve a well-deserved applause!
Rosso 70, a work that in my opinion is truly well-crafted, moving, and at times even touching, is not the only film dedicated to the Scoiattoli’s group.
In 1979, the Trento Film Festival featured the documentary “In punta di piedi”. The film is dedicated to the activities of the “Scoiattoli” of Cortina through a memory itinerary that highlights the human characteristics and spirit of generosity of the group.
In 1999, “I cavalieri delle vertigini” was produced, which won the Genziana d’Oro CAI award at the Film Festival in Trento in 2000. The film tells the epic story of opening the Italian-Swiss route on the North Face of Cima Ovest di Lavaredo.
Even the publishing industry has dealt with the Scoiattoli. The first volume I am aware of is “Gli Scoiattoli di Cortina” by Piero Rossi, published on July 15, 1965, by Arti Grafiche Tamari in Bologna. The now-unavailable book is dedicated to the Scoiattolo Albino Michielli Strobel.
Following this, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the association’s foundation, the late friend, mountaineer and writer Giovanni Cenacchi, who passed away at the age of 43, wrote an exhaustive volume entitled: “Gli Scoiattoli di Cortina – Storia e memoria i 50 anni d’alpinismo ampezzano”. It is a captivating book that accurately addresses the complex and important mountaineering history of the Scoiattoli, from the year of its foundation until 1989.
“Gli Scoiattoli di Cortina”
by Piero Rossi
Arti Grafiche Tamari – 1965
“Gli Scoiattoli di Cortina – Storia e memoria i 50 anni d’alpinismo ampezzano”
by Giovanni Cenacchi
Grafiche Lema – 1989