Two faces of Alta Via 2 — the world famous Alpine long hiking trail

An Italian sociologist from Belluno Diego Cason addresses the issues of diversity and the future of tourism in the three Dolomites provinces, affected by the world famous alpine long hiking trail Alta Via 2*, in an extensive essay.

Diego Cason
Studied sociology at Università degli Studi di Trento

— The Alta Via 2, for at least 4/5, lies along the line of an old border between states.

A border that, for a long time, has been very popular. From refugees, emigrants, shepherds, chromers, smugglers, partisans, lovers, breeders, mountaineers, hunters, poachers and forest guards. A border that geographically there should not be more. And instead it is still there immutable, invisible and impassable. It is no longer made up of walls, fences and frisia horses, it is formed by a thick curtain of inequalities, extraneousness and exclusion.

Previously on both sides of the border, people understood each other, shared the same life, frequented each other and spoke the same language. Today they do not. Today inequality has dug a furrow. On the one hand development and population growth, on the other stagnation and depopulation.

The 8 municipalities of the Süd Tirol, located along the Alta Via 2, have seen their population grow by 61% since 1961 (+13 000 residents), the residents in the 4 municipalities of Trentino have grown by 18% (+1528 residents), the residents in the 12 municipalities of Belluno have suffered a decrease of 20% (-9721 residents).

Gosaldo and Sovramonte have lost 78% and 60% of their citizens.

The high crashes are, more or less, the same on both sides, but everything that happens at their feet is not. For example, tourism. The resource is the same but not the ability to use it.

Again with reference only to the municipalities of Alta Via 2, in the 8 municipalities of South Tyrol there are 676 hotels (with 25 000 beds), in the 4 municipalities of Trentino there are 217 hotels (with 13 000 beds), in the 12 municipalities of Belluno there are 102 hotels (with 6400 beds). In other words, for each municipality of Belluno there are on average 8.5 hotels with 541 beds, in Trentino there are 54 with 3294 beds, in Süd Tirol there are 84 with 3198 beds.

There are 15 refuges in the municipalities of Alta Via 2 with 612 beds in Süd Tirol, 20 with 444 beds in Trentino and 28 with 532 beds in the Belluno area. 30 % of the total 63 refuges are on the Alta Via 2. This difference in the distribution of the capacity of the tourist accommodation facilities has an effect on the attractiveness of the municipalities. The 12 municipalities in the Belluno area had 222 000 arrivals in 2016, the 4 municipalities in Trentino had 232 000, the 8 in the Süd Tirol 1 million. The average arrivals per municipality were 18 000 in the Belluno area, 58 000 in the Trentino area and 132 000 in Süd Tirol.

In 2016, the 12 municipalities of Belluno had 1 million presences, the 4 municipalities of Trentino had 3 million, the 8 of the Süd Tirol almost 5 million. In this case the average presences per municipality were 84 000 in the municipalities of Belluno, 764 000 in those of Trentino and 593 000 in those of the Süd Tirol. The different ability to propose the Dolomites as a tourist destination is evident and has many reasons.

The most important of which is that the two provinces of Trento and Bolzano/Süd Tirol are autonomous and govern themselves, while Belluno is governed by Venice.

Trento and Bolzano have reached the limit of overflow and no longer know where to put the guests they attract.

In 2018 in Bolzano there were 7.292.99 arrivals and 32.400.662 presences, in Trento 4.290198 arrivals and 17.776.030 presences, in Belluno 972.354 arrivals and 3.806.806 presences. For now the tourist pressure on these businesses can be said to be high only in July, August and September but it will grow. Today, the travelers of the Alta Via 2 census are only those who complete it and do not exceed 1500 per year. There are many more those who do not register or who cover more or less long stretches, and even more are the hikers who reach refuges with circular routes in the day.

The pressure is already felt at the refuge Genova, Firenze, Puez, Boè, Pian dei Fiacconi, Fedaia, Fuchiade, Volpi, Pedrotti, Pradidali, Cant del Gal. In the others much less and some are in difficulty for the scarce flow.

If we evaluate only the summer period the arrivals are 970.058 and the presences are 4.245.256. If only one out of every hundred of them sets foot on the Alta Via it means having 9701 people on the Alta Via routes. If we divide them by the 50 good days of the season, we get 194 tourists per day, which is added to the flow of hikers that can be estimated at least 350 people per day, the total is about 550, ignoring all those who arrive out of season.

In the summer months there are 42 thousand presences that, distributed over 50 days, are about 850 nights spent in shelters. Since it represents an occupation of the Alta Via 2 shelters, equal to half of the maximum accommodation capacity of 1,588 guests per day.

But the flow is not regular and continuous, some sleep in bivouac and, if needed, even under the tables of the restaurant. In addition and there are still those who enjoy the Alta Via sleeping in curtains or under the stars. The Alta Via 2 of the Legends becomes in some periods spot, the Alta Via of nightmares, especially on the variant of the Tridentine via ferrata, or the Boè, or the Pedrotti and Pradidali. But in many periods of the summer, especially when it rains, the flows are modest.

ParameterSüd TirolTrentinoBelluno
Population grow since 1961+61% (+13.000)+18% (+1528)-20% (-9721)
Hotels and beds in one municipality on average8.5 (541)54 (3294)84 (3198)
Rifugios152028 (50% of all)
Arrivals in 20161 m232.000222.000
Arrivals per municipality on average132.00058.00018.000
Presences in 20165 m3 m1 m
Presences per municipality on average593.00076.00084.000

The Trentino and Tyrolean model is not the way to go.

If the Belluno Dolomites supinely accept the Trentino and Tyrolean model of mountain tourism development for the Alta Via there is no escape. Mind you, the two models have had formidable success and have created widespread wealth. Bravo. But to believe that the road is to do like them and compete will be a suicidal choice.

The delay in the tourist development of the Belluno slopes of the Alta Via 2 will be the trump card in the future.

They will be places of silence, discretion and low density of human activities to attract the most valuable and less harmful and more demanding part of the tourist flows. We will have to equip ourselves to host them at the bottom of the valley and in refuges at high altitude and prevent, at any cost, that they can reach the valuable territories at high altitude with means other than their legs.

If I leave from the chaos of the metropolises of the world to visit the Dolomites and then I find myself in the same situation that I have just abandoned, inside a crowded and noisy circus, then there will be someone who will wonder if it is worth spending to have what he already has under his house.

* Alta Via 2 is a hut-to-hut high alpine hiking trail in the Dolomites and one of the world’s most famous long hiking trails together with, for example, The Way of Santiago in northern Spain, or Inca Tail in Peru.

It is now 51 years have passed since, in the summer of 1969, the two residents of Feltrino Dolomites, Louis Pillon and Ivano Tisot, walked 180 kilometers in the heart of the Dolomites, from north to south, along a route traced by the Bavarian mountain guide Sigi Lechner, inaugurating the Alta Via 2.

It runs in 13 stages and 180 km, starting from Bressanone (Brixen) and ending in Feltre, through five magnificent Dolomite areas: the Plóse subgroup and the groups of Pùtia, Odle, Pùez, Sella, Marmolada and in the last sector the group of Pale di San Martino and Alpi Feltrine.

This is a translation of the part of the original publication in on 12.01.2020.

Cover photo hiking a part of Alta Via 2 in Pale di San Martino in September 2019 © Ivan Kuznetsov