Squirrels of Cortina

The “Scoiattoli di Cortina” (Squirrels of Cortina) are a group of mountaineers and climbers based in Cortina d’Ampezzo. The Squirrels of Cortina are undoubtedly, along with the “Ragni di Lecco”, the most famous Italian mountaineering association. Although they are not necessarily professional climbers (not all of them are mountain guides), a respectable climbing resume is required to join this prestigious group.

The Scoiattoli di Cortina gained international fame in 1954, the year when Squirrel Lino Lacedelli conquered the unconquered peak of K2. However, it should be noted that the Scoiattoli were already well-known among experts as top-notch climbers well before that time.

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 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. In fact, 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.

The founders of Scoiattoli Club

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.

Ettore Costantini rappels in the old-fashioned way

In the case of the Gruppo Guide Cortina, almost all the guides are also members of the Scoiattoli, while not all Scoiattoli have the qualification of a Mountain Guide. In my case, for example, I proudly became a member of the Scoiattoli di Cortina in 1981, and only a few years later, in 1984, I obtained the qualification of a pro Mountain Guide. I still remember how ardently I desired to be accepted into the group. It was a highly coveted recognition that had to be earned by demonstrating skills and passion.

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, in order 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 sport 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.

1982 – Enrico Maioni on the Messner route of the Pilastro di Mezzo – Sass de la Crusc

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 of 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.

Luca Zardini at the Rock Master in Arco

And although it’s true, alas, that time flies and even they, once so young, are no longer, the new generations are ready to keep the name of the legendary Gruppo Scoiattoli di 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, 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.

I cavalieri delle vertigini – Cover

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

Scoiattoli di Cortina di Piero Rossi

“Gli Scoiattoli di Cortina – Storia e memoria i 50 anni d’alpinismo ampezzano”
by Giovanni Cenacchi

Grafiche Lema – 1989

Scoiattoli di Cortina di Giovanni Cenacchi

External links:
1. On Wikipedia you can find all the first ascents of the Squirrels, from the foundation of the Society until the year 2013.
2. The Squirrels Facebook page.