I see amazement and shock in my friends’ eyes – the shock of those who never saw the damage inflicted by the major earthquakes of August and October 2016 on the Marche region in Central Italy (Sibillini Mountain National Park area).
On our brief trek through the region, Christian, Federico and I will see small villages, ski resorts and other places that have been devastated by the earthquakes. We’ll try to keep the spotlight on this area, which has been destroyed and left largely uninhabited by these quakes.
Denied entry into what’s left of Arquata del Tronto, we move on to Forca di Presta. We slowly cross Piedilama and Pretare. My friends remain silent out of respect for the suffering of those who once lived here and now have nothing. They say, “We could have never imagined something like this".
The fog renders everything that much colder, harder. Few houses remain standing. The heavily damaged ones near the street are being demolished, so vehicles can safely pass. Fire departments and municipal police have come from other regions to support the local authorities. Leaving Pretare, soldiers stop us at the checkpoint to make sure our paperwork is in order.
As we cross the road to Castelluccio di Norcia between two-meter high snow walls, the sun peeks through the mist. Entering Forca di Presta, we see Monte Vettore and the Sibillini mountains in all their beauty. To the south, the Laga Mountains seem suspended over a sea of clouds.
Christian and Federico's eyes are filled with wonder. They say, "The contrast between the fog and the sun is a message: from tragedy and loss to hope and rebirth."
We mount our skins and hike toward the Forca Canapine ski resort. Walking along the crest to the west, we cross beautiful Apennine beech forests covered in hoarfrost that fascinate Christian and Federico.
Several hours later, after following fresh wolf tracks much of the way, we arrive at the Nordica school camp. Once teeming with kids and ski instructors, it now lies deserted. The ski school signposts and carpet lie buried in snow. The earthquake has cleaved the shelter and demolished the lift station – signs of something that is no more.
Continuing towards Rifugio Perugia, a fascist era structure, we spot a herd of horses on a distant plateau. After traversing the old Monte Cappelletta ski resort, we come across the shelter, later converted into a restaurant. A crumpled Italian flag waving over what’s left of a crumbled wall catches Federico’s eye. Is it a sign of something larger and stronger than us?
The sun is setting. We sprint down to Pian Grande and follow the long road to Castelluccio di Norcia. There, we witness a wonderful sunset over the Sibillini Mountains: Vettore, Monte Argentella, Palazzo Borghese, Monte Porche, Cima Cannafusto, Monte Bove Sud, and Monte Bicco.
Night falls. I’m overcome with loneliness, melancholy. For the first time in my life, the village of Castelluccio lies in total darkness. Its lights have always illuminated the area. Tonight, we can only see the distant lights of Camposanto and the cross. We build a snow cave and bed down.
Next morning we once again see the contrast between earthly fog and heavenly sky. The road to Castelluccio appears to have been swallowed by the earth. It’s extraordinary. Entering the village we meet the Alpine patrol. They’ve been here ever since the earthquakes struck. An incredible snowfall has made the town even more inaccessible. The patrol kindly explains that, despite our permits, we cannot enter. The risks are too great. We understand and thank them for their work.
We descend to Pian Perduto. Rubble lies everywhere. Palaces lean to one side. Others are almost totally destroyed. The smell of concrete and lime, typical of construction sites, is overwhelming. But there is no construction, only rubble. Nothing is left of the Castelluccio I once knew. The beautiful setting and terrible destruction shake Christian and Federico. Their eyes express both joy and sorrow.
After a few moments of silence, we head for Pian Perduto and Monte Prata. We attach our skins for the trek to the ski resort at Madonna della Cona. An hour later we arrive at the car park under the lodge. We see the fractured building and sunken containment walls. The chairlifts and ski school carpet eerily remind us of Forca Canapine. The silence is unnerving – an area once full of life, tourists, skiers and ski masters now lies silent, deserted.
Christian makes a symbolic climb under the ski lift. The view from up top is spectacular. Once again, we feel conflicted. We’re in one of the most beautiful places in our country, in an unspoiled setting that the earthquake has tragically made grim and threatening.
We descend toward the villages in the North, making the only two turns of this short ski trip. After 40 km on skins, the turns will come to signify a desire for rebirth. Out of respect for the people and places that once thrived here and lost everything, the turns mark the beginning of a positive message of hope.
We descend all the way to Castel Sant'Angelo sul Nera and Visso, once wonderful places now heavily damaged and, in parts, almost completely destroyed. In beautiful piazza Visso we pause briefly in front of the Collegio dei Maestri, or what remains of it. We look at each other: the devastation here seems more profound, perhaps because so much beauty has been destroyed.
We wanted to complete our tour in Ussita, Frontignano or another ski school destroyed by the earthquakes. Getting permission was impossible. It seemed wrong to force the issue.