Giorgio Daidola, “the last romantic skier”, is in constant pursuit of adventure and refuses to be defined into a narrow existence. Professor of business economics, book author, journalist, and the father of telemark skiing in Italy are only a few labels that describe him.
While telemark skiing and sailing are Giorgio’s dear passions his way of life expands the meaning of the word “adventure”. Little known in North America, he is an important figure in European mountain culture and one that all of us can learn from.
Giorgio Daidola has skied on all seven continents, including the first telemark descent of an 8,000 metre peak, the Shishapangma in 1988. He has also completed many ski adventures and traverses in Canada and in the US. Beyond skiing, he did a lot of vagabond sailing in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic to experience local cultures and to ski mountains right from his small boat.
Today, Giorgio lives on a small farm in the wild Lagorai Mountains, not far from his university in the historic city of Trento in northern Italy. From there, he is getting ready for his next adventure – to sail across the Atlantic Ocean with his trusted boat.
His books have been published only in Italian but might be translated into English and other languages in the next couple of years – Ski Spirit (Gambrinus prize 2016), Sciatori di Montagna, Viaggio in Mediterraneo, Dal Mediterraneo alle Azzorre.
Now, let’s dive into an inspiring discussion with Giorgio on everything from skiing, to work, to his life’s greatest lessons.
Q: Your adventures are diverse – skiing in the mountains and sailing a boat on the sea seem very contrasting. What is it that makes you love both?
Sailing and skiing for me are not contrasting. Sailing is sliding on water, skiing is sliding on snow, that is water too. I try to do both by fair means…
Sea and mountains are very similar in offering emotions and vertigos of freedom to people that love them deeply.
The best adventure for me is sailing with my ski equipment on the boat, searching for mountains to ski from the sea! There are a lot!
Q: You are considered “the father” of telemark in Italy as you reintroduced it in 1982. When were you introduced to telemark?
I skied since I was 2.5 years old. My parents taught me to ski before walking, it was winter and spring 1945/46. Then I became alpine ski instructor in 1971. I did ski mountaineering almost all my life until 1982, with alpine equipment. After that, for the last 37 years, I have been skiing with telemark equipment.
I discovered telemark looking at the photos of my father and at the photos and books of Pat Morrow, John Falkiner, Paul Parker, Morten Aass. They all became very good friends of mine, we did a lot of ski trips together. All of us were consultants for Scarpa, helping the passage from leather to plastic… this was maybe a mistake.
Telemark allowed me to discover a new dimension of skiing, a new mental attitude, a way of skiing without rigid rules, ideal for travelling.
I think telemark is more elegant than alpine, less mechanical and repetitive. As my friend Luca Gasparini, telemark ski instructor in Livigno wrote, “telemark is not just free heel skiing, is free body skiing”. To appreciate this, not to have rules, just to believe in the magic of your knee, just to be aerial like a bird, just to discover the pleasure of slowness in turning.
True telemark is the contrary of agressive, fast modern skiing. Fast telemark, piste telemark made with heavy boots, bindings and skis, has no future, it will be the end of telemark, because it is more and more similar to alpine.
To continue in this direction, as first of all Americans are doing, will be a suicide for a way of skiing that must remain different – less efficient than alpine but strongly tied up with the history and the spirit of mountaineering skiing.
For me, telemark has been the right tool to discover the “ski spirit” – a way of living – skiing not just as a sport. And I said “for me”, nobody is obliged to ski telemark in order to discover the ski spirit!
Q: What inspires your next adventure? Seeing a photograph, reading an article, talking to friends…?
I mainly took inspiration from the greatest mountaineering skiers of the past. We have nothing to invent.
Writing the book “Sciatori di Montagna” allowed me to discover the best “ski spirit”, from Nansen to Parmentier, going through Paulcke, Kurz, Lunn, Zwingelstein and other great skiers.
I think the most mature way of skiing are long traverses. There are still a lot of marvelous ski traverses to do, just look at the maps, at the old books, and then dream to do them!
Q: What kind of experiences are you looking for on your adventures – exploration, people, culture, thrill…?
The best ski trips allow to put together all these experiences or at least the majority of them.
To reach this goal it is important not to plan the ski trips too much but to organize them “on the road”, trying to be flexible as much as possible.
Q: Among all your travels around the world, which are your favourite places?
I have no favourite places, I have a great remembrance of all my ski trips…
A marvelous ski trip is like to fall in love for a marvelous girl.
To compare romantic adventures is not possible, it is not elegant. Each adventure is peculiar, is unique, it is a piece of true life.
Q: Which adventures would you recommend in Italy for foreigners? And which ones would you recommend for Italians that have already explored the usual places by skiing, hiking or sailing?
First of all, I would recommend to do the traverse of the Alps from end to end, better from east to west, following the tracks of Bruno Detassis, or the Odier brothers (just read their beautifull book!), or Leon Zwingelstein, or Paolo Rabbia… Consider doing this traverse without using any mechanical help, as Paolo did alone 9 years ago!
Wild adventures can be everywhere in the Alps and in the Apennines, it is not necessary to go to Antarctic or Himalaya. True adventures depend on the way and on the spirit.
Q: Your professional career as a professor of economics and a financial analyst seems to be in contrast to your adventurous spirit. Do they balance each other or do you struggle between the two sometimes?
All my activities are complementary side to consider life. I am not just a professor and a traveller, I am also a journalist.
For many years, I have been the editor of the leading italian magazine “Rivista della Montagna” and of 17 issues of the yearbook “Dimensione Sci”.
The challenge is to enjoy all activities. This will avoid to find them boring!
I do not like to consider myself a professional in some field, even as a professor, because passion and professionalization hardly match…
There is a movie made by my friend Alberto Sciamplicotti, video maker and telly skier, about my philosophy of life. The title is “Il diritto e il rovescio” (“The Wrong Side and the Right Side”), paraphrasing the famous book of Albert Camus. In this movie, made during a ski trip together in Armenia, five years ago, I try to explain that life has two opposing sides, to see just one is not enough…
Q: Currently, you are preparing for an expedition to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. What does preparation for such a big trip involve? When would you like to depart? Where do you want to start and finish?
A crossing of Atlantic is not at all a big expedition, many people can do it. For me, it is something important because I never did it before and because both my boat and myself we are quite old.
I think that the slow ocean traverse that I plan to do next winter will be above all an important adventure for the spirit. It will not be a race, it will be the discovery of slowness. It will be like to traverse Greenland with skis, in 30 days, on the tracks of Nansen.
This time I will follow the path of Christopher Columbus, starting like him from La Gomera, an island in Spain’s Canary Island chain, in January 2020.
I do not know when an where exactly this sailing trip will end, I will decide while doing it, according to the wind.
Q: Can Giorgio Daidola be summarized in one word or a simple sentence?
For an article for Powder Magazine, in February 1997, David Goodman, after our ski trip to Etna, he chose the title:
“The last romantic skier”
I think this sentence still summarizes myself perfectly!
Q: What would you like to tell the new generation of adventurers? What would be your message for them?
First of all, I think everybody should find their way, after having read a good number of books of the great explorers of the past.
Secondly, I do not like to make sermons like a priest, I just would like that young adventurers will take the time to read, among the others, my books “Ski Spirit” and “Sciatori di montagna” (unfortunately at the moment only in Italian), and then they will decide what they want to do…