Watch the film, Fast and Light at the bottom of this article
A trickle of piano noise from the local music school weaves its way through open window shutters left ajar to allow some breeze… the heat of the day can be stifling. It feels and sounds like a scene in a movie. Cobbled streets, stone arches, a wonderful old square, the chatter of children playing and the smell of a freshly brewed cappuccino in the air.
Biella, or should I say, the International Skyrunning Federation HQ (and home of Lauri van Houten and Marino Giacometti) is atop a hill in a walled village close to the Aosta valley, just over an hour from Chamonix and in close proximity to Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn. It seems the perfect location for the home of pure mountain running. Biella lies in the foothills of the Alps in the Bo mountain range near Mt. Mucrone and Camino.
It is midway through the 2014 season, between Ice Trail Tarentaise and Trofeo Kima, I spend time with Lauri and Marino in Biella at their home in the mountains (Casina) Corteno Golgi and at Trofeo Kima to get an inside look at what makes this couple tick and how the Skyrunning calendar and its logistics fall into place. The African Attachment with Greg Fell, Dean Leslie and Kelvin Trautman were also filming for Salomon Running. Today, 20th Oct the preview film will be made live. #FastandLight is for me a special moment. I hope you enjoy the film and the related articles and images that are currently published worldwide to coincide with the films release.
Mountains dominate the life of Marino and Lauri. It’s not a job; it’s a passion that dominates 12+ hours of every day. You will see the dynamic duo at all the Skyrunner® World Series races every year. In total, that is 15-events in 3-disciplines, VK, SKY and ULTRA. But these worldwide events are just the visible face of what the ISF does! Behind the scenes it’s a frenetic highly pressured scene of telephone calls, emails, logistical planning and negotiations that make the Skyrunner® World Series tick.
“We moved here as the sports brand Fila were based here. In the 90’s they were a key sponsor for Skyrunning,” says Lauri van Houten, Executive Director for the International Skyrunning Federation, “When Fila folded, we were left with a dilemma; should we stay or should we go? Stay we did and it feels natural and relaxed to be here now.”
It’s a scenario far removed from 1989 when Giacometti set a record running from the village of Alagna to the summit of Monte Rosa. 25-years of mountain running and today, iconic names such as Bruno Brunod and Fabio Meraldi are once again being talked about in the same breath as Kilian Jornet.
“Older generations were already Skyrunners. My grandfather crossed the mountains working for example. ‘We’ as Skyrunners added more speed but in essence it has always been the same thing, Skyrunners have always existed.” Bruno Brunod says.
“What I liked was going quickly to the summit. I felt the same when I was a kid in the pastures, I always ran up and down the summits that surrounded me. It is something I felt inside, something I liked.”
In 2012, Skyrunning went through a revival. After careful and strategic planning, the ISF launched the new Sky Ultra Marathon Series with Transvulcania La Palma and a seminar, ‘Less Cloud, More Sky.’ The sport moved up a notch and became something that runners all over the world aspired to. It’s been called the ‘the next big thing’ but as Giacometti explains:
“There is nothing new in Skyrunning. It is just now that everyone is catching up with our vision from so many years ago.”
Biella is a wonderful place. Calm and relaxing, to me, it is typically Italian. Located opposite a music school, the ISF headquarters and home of Marino Giacometti and Lauri van Houten resonate a calm and tranquility that seems far removed from the full-on days in and around and Skyrunner® World Series.
The sun shines and the daily bustle of Italian life provides a wonderful soundtrack that penetrates ones’ mind. Cars rumble over cobbled streets as they scoot off to work, mothers are heard chastising their children as they amble to school. The click of an espresso machine and that wonderful noise as pressured water works its way through fresh coffee and the smell, oh the smell! Nothing beats a fresh coffee in the morning. It’s 7am and Marino is kicking off his day with a good strong shot of the dark stuff before donning glasses and opening his computer.
The office is adorned with memorabilia from 20+ years of travel and racing. The door plaque sums it up’ Skyrunners.’ In the corner, magazines are stacked in chronological order documenting a lifetime in sport.
Lauri joins us looking a little tired. Yesterday was another 18-hour day. It’s normal… it shouldn’t be but it is!
“What does a normal day look like for you Lauri?” I tentatively ask, knowing full well the answer.
“How long have you got? I have no idea; I am speechless. I am a person that gets bored easy. This job is NEVER boring! I may have 5-spreadsheets open, 50 e-mails to look at, and a schedule of things to address and amend and then I need to coordinate with athletes, teams, team managers and race directors and media. My day starts with email. I often think oh my goodness and then the first forty or so emails arrive and then a daily grind starts. In addition to this, sometimes language is a challenge. I speak English, Italian, German but I have emails from Russia, Turkey, Greece, Afghanistan and so on. As I said, my day is never boring.”
Trofeo Kima is just around the corner. For many, me included, ‘Kima’ is the epitome of Skyrunning. Kilian Jornet sums it up well when he says:
“Picture a mountain terrain that has no paths, amidst glaciers; it is all crests, rocks, stretches of via Ferrata and all over a course that stretches 50-km. Kima is not athletics, it is mountaineering; pure Skyrunning!”
Preparations are well underway for the race and in just 24-hours we will all need to travel to Milan for a press conference and then a journey will follow to the mountains, to Corteno Golgi and a stay at Marino’s mountain house, the ‘Casina’ before an onward journey to the Kima race itself.
“I m a hub, the person in the middle,” says Lauri. “But often you can’t plan how a day will unfold. I have a ‘to do’ list that obviously needs to get done but then things happen daily that need to be addressed immediately. It’s all about time management and you just can’t stick to a too rigid schedule as the guidelines constantly move and change. Kima is imminent and therefore many questions and problems arise. We also have a press conference in Milan, that requires work.”
Marino looks over at us, he peeps over his glasses and smiles. My question. “Tell me where you come in Marino?” Seems to suggest that I am implying he does nothing.
“Now it’s difficult. We have so many races. I look at race profiles initially and it is easy to see from a quick glance what will and will not make a good Skyrunning race. Remember, my experience was mountaineering but we had to adapt my dreams for a worldwide audience. I look for mountains and mountains provide races and opportunities. I also need to consider locations, countries and how the schedule comes together.”
The phone rings and Marino joins Fabio Meraldi in a conversation. Walking out of the office into the sunlight, Marino strides around the garden in animated discussion. The Italian sounds like bird song and with arms waving and gesticulating, plans are made for Kima and a series of interviews that will be filmed by The African Attachment on a new film about Skyrunning called, ‘Fast and Light.’
“Tell me about Trofeo Kima, because you designed this course, yes?”
“Kima is on the course of the Sentiero Roma. It’s a well known via ferrata route. It crosses the group of technical mountains in the area and passes through all the 7-refuges. We did the race in reverse for safety reasons but it is still a very technical race and ultimately it has become a beacon of Skyrunning. Ironically, for a Skyrunning race the course does not go to the summits! It is just not possible. However, it is a pure expression of Skyrunning.”
It is easy to look at the ISF calendar and see the Skyrunner® World Series and think easy! However, it takes 365-days to make those 15+ days happen. When one season ends, plans start immediately, if not before for the following season.
“We are no longer race organisers.” Lauri says, “We did in the past! We organised many races in logistically difficult places, such as Tibet, Mexico, Nepal and so on. I think we organised over 80-races! The World Series is a collection of races that we coordinate.”
Marino was a visionary and many like to call him the ‘Father’ of Skyrunning.
“Skyrunning differs to other sports and this is the discipline we launched in the late 1990’s. Skyrunning has always existed; all across the world it is just that it became a formalised sport. I therefore consider myself the father of Skyrunning for the aspect of race organisation because when it started 25-years ago nobody talked about this.”
Emails ping on arrival, the phone rings repeatedly and I suddenly realise that our day is going to be way too busy to continue discussing the working life of the ISF. Taking a place at my desk, I open my laptop and get on with my work in preparation for Kima. I sneak an opportunity pre lunch to stroll around the town, take in a cappuccino and photograph Biella. Lunch provides a break and in true Italian fashion, everything stops. It provides an opportunity to relax, take in a glass of wine and eat fresh and wholesome food in a meze style.
“Marino is brilliant,” Lauri says as she pours white wine into my glass. “He took on the role of food shopping and preparation to allow me more time to work on logistics. It really is a life saver.”
Marino is a fit man, he is lean, dark skinned from many hours outdoors and one may well think that is to be expected from someone who heads up the ISF and the sport of mountain running. It would be easy to assume that Marino spends 4 to 8-hours a day on the mountains, fulfilling his dreams and working his ISF role in and around his passion! In reality, Marino cycles or runs for 30-minutes a day. Somewhere deep inside I wonder, does he have regrets and then I find myself asking the question, “Do you regret the decisions you made all those years ago, to race direct and not race?”
“I made my choices. What can I say, for 2 to 3-years I was very disappointed with myself. I had run around Everest for example, but not to the top. Now I can’t go back. It’s a question of mountain mentality; I was born in a small valley, a small village with no sun in winter. You try to survive everyday and this forms your mentality. In my next life I hope to relax and enjoy simple pleasures.”
“But you must have dreams, aspirations. Do you have a bucket list; do you want to achieve anything else?”
“I want to go back to the mountains… it is just a dream! In 2016 I would like to go to the Everest North Face with Bruno and Kilian. I know it is impossible… but I can dream.”
It’s not often that I am stuck for words, but as I look into his eyes I feel sad. To me it seems as though Marino has given up on his personal dreams.
“Do you believe you can only live your dreams when you leave Skyrunning behind?”
“Skyrunning is our baby. But the baby has grown up. We would be lost without Skyrunning and we will be on board for as long as we can but obviously, in the near future we will hand over more duties to other people. Many of the people we work with are all very knowledgeable and passionate. That is stimulating and exciting. Skyrunning is here to stay, as we both are, have no fear!”
MILAN – Trofeo Kima press conference
Milan is not far away and it’s on our way to the ‘Casina’ thus making the Kima press conference logical and workable into a day of travel. We are late but Marino drives like an Italian! A clean white shirt, Armani jeans and Mr ISF looks pretty darn dapper. Lauri is dressed in black with large shades. I suddenly feel very British. Italians do ‘style’ with ease and of course, where better to look sharp than Milan. I have no choice, I am on a working trip and my wardrobe doesn’t extend to looking cool.
It’s hot in the city and the traffic irritates me after the quiet of Biella. Walking into a large office block we are escorted to the 4th floor and Kima delegates greet us. It’s all kisses and handshakes. Old friends meet new friends and the banter is relaxed.
A large table with place names adds formality to the event. Marino takes his place and the conference begins. It’s a show for local press and global papers and all part of the valued process to promote the ISF, Skyrunning and give valued exposure to race sponsors.
Post the conference, a meeting takes place and Kima is discussed. Great emphasis is placed on schedules in regard to the helicopter. Kima is so technical and demanding that a helicopter is the only way to transport media around the event. Bad weather; no media!
Helicopters are expensive but at Kima we often have 2-helicopters at our disposal for 8+ hours. It may well be why I enjoy the race so much. It’s an adventure. Believe me, to be afforded the opportunity to see the worlds best runners on arguably the best course is something I will never take for granted.
“We have to do these press conferences, it’s important for all concerned but it’s a drain on our valuable time and for every hour, minute and second we are here, more and more emails and questions flood into our respective in-boxes,”Lauri says as we rush to the car for our onward journey to the Casina. “It has a knock on effect for tomorrow and the days after, what can you do?”
CASINA – Corteno Golgi
The ‘Casina’ is a mountain house in Corteno Golgi close to Marino’s birthplace of San Antonio. Spread over 2-floors it is almost two completely different buildings. Upstairs is all wood, a combination of rustic/ modern and a wonderfully relaxing place that has been heavily influenced by Lauri. Downstairs is the original building, un-touched for years and one that harks back to Marino’s past. The garage is a Skyrunning museum of ice axes, helmets, shoes, race bibs, clothing, videos and old slides.
Surrounded by green fields and mountains on either side I suddenly see Marino in a new light. He his home! He points at peaks and explains his childhood; his passions and I suddenly feel very honoured and privileged.
“The African Attachment (TAA) arrive tomorrow Ian and you are going to be able to spend a couple of days in the mountains with Marino. They are filming a piece on Skyrunning and they want to take Marino back to his childhood, revisit old haunts and film Marino running in the mountains.”
I met Dean Leslie and Greg Fell from TAA at Transvulcania La Palma back in 2012 and since then we have kept in-touch and often crossed paths at races all over the world. I am excited at the guys arriving and the opportunity to work alongside them and shoot stills, a real perk of the job. Photographer, Kelvin Trautman is directing the film and although I haven’t met him before, we soon hit it off and I realise that what is in store; two awesome days in the mountains.
The evening is amazing. The sky is adorned with clouds and as we climb with cameras, Marino runs to the instructions of Kelvin.
Looking for ridges and technical lines, Marino embraces the challenge and is arguably having the most fun he has had in ages.
Days don’t get much better than this… at the summit of Monte Padrio the light is incredible and as the sun disappears for the day we are rewarded with a colour palette of orange, red and gold. Marino is in silhouette on the Skyline and I realise I am in a moment, a moment that I won’t ever forget.
Sleep is not something you need when working with the ISF. The following day starts early with a short drive and we are suddenly looking at Marino’s childhood home.
Marino’s childhood home
Marino laughs as he recounts boyhood memories. “I used to go mushroom picking in this area.”
Following him up the trail, Kelvin wants Marino to go back 50-years to those mischievous days as a boy. Immediately Marino finds a mushroom, he removes his Buff and ties a knot in one end to create a cloth bag. Moving left to right on the trail, the bag slowly fills with the rewards from the land.
“In the Valle Campo Vecchio I would go skinny dipping in the river.”
Marino may well have regretted this sentence as just an hour later he was running along grass banks barefoot and then submerging himself in the ice cold river water from the mountains.
Today, Marino may well have fulfilled some of those dreams that he thought might not ever come back. It was special.
The warmth of the log burner in the Casina provided that ultimate feeling of contentment that one longs for after a day in the mountains. Marino’s body was aching, his legs heavy from the repeated running but beneath a tired façade I knew he had had a good. Red wine had been decanted to glasses and dinner was moments away.
As we relax into the evening, the Casina provided a very different ambiance to Biella. It’s more relaxed. The pressures and deadlines still exist, they have not gone away but the mountains and mountain life make us all realize why we are here. It provides perspective.
Eager to resume my questions from the previous day, I hold back. Now is not the time… it has been a great day, a great couple of days and we need to savour the moments.
“We have plans for some very exciting races at high altitude that will be very technical in future years. 2012 was an important stepping-stone. Less Cloud. More Sky was an important phase in the development of Skyrunning. One thing that was apparent is the desire from runners for technical and high altitude sport. So, here we are following our heritage for a new era.”
My concerns of talking shop are eroded away as Lauri brings our conversation to present day.
“So, am I correct in assuming that we won’t see races like Templiers or UROC in future ISF race calendars?” I ask.
“We needed to expand, to grow and introduce Skyrunning to a new audience. Templiers and UROC allowed this to a certain extent but we will go back to our roots moving forward. In America it is harder to find courses but we are working on this. UROC was a high altitude race just not technical. The Rut has shown we can find the correct style of course. We would love to do a race from Cervinia or Chamonix to the summit of Mont-Blanc but we can’t do this for everyone!”
“Do you think it is a happy coincidence that the revival of Skyrunning coincides with the rise of Kilian Jornet?”
“Absolutely, however, it is no coincidence. Bruno Brunod was Kilian’s hero. Kilian followed his dreams and the inspiration Bruno provided, Kilian is now the epitome of Skyrunning. When we first met Kilian in 2006, he impressed immediately. He was a natural Skyrunner. We all know the history; he was born in the mountains and as such he has just developed in an organic way. As I said, a natural.”
Conversation turns to the day’s events; Lauri is eager to enquire how filming went. We laugh as Marino explains in detail his plunge in the ice-cold water of the river and how his fingers turned blue.
“Kelvin worked Marino hard today with his demands but it was great fun. This area, the mountains and the small village are all quite special. I can understand completely why Marino loves to escape here.”
Another fried mushroom is removed from the platter and added to my plate. To think, just this morning Marino was collecting these very mushrooms from his childhood haunts. He had prepared them in the traditional manner and the simple delicacy provided the perfect accompaniment to the surroundings and company.
The Casina gallery:
Filming with The African Attachment gallery:
Emelie Forsberg looked into the lens of the TAA camera, smiled in a way that only Emelie can and with a nervous and infectious giggle whispered the words:
“Two years ago in my first year of racing I was fortunate to race at Trofeo Kima. I looked at this course and thought; really… you can run a race on this course?”
I too had found my first Kima experience equally mesmerising. My breath had been taken away by the drama and severity of the course. I had never seen anything quite like it and the impact was profound. Hopping from one section of the course to another via helicopter added some serious icing to the Kima cake.
A vertical wall of rock and suddenly a flash of red and white. Kilian appears, hand-over-hand as he descends via chains and then flies past us with a wave as though running a 5k. He looks so incredibly relaxed.
Kasie Enman is the first lady and this provides some confusion. Emelie Forsberg had had a convincing lead; what had happened? Finally, Emelie arrives 5th lady, in tears but running like a demon. She had gone off course and lost almost an hour. Trying to claw back time she takes risks; 4th place, 3rd place and then 2nd, was it possible to take back victory?
Unfortunately, no! Kasie Enman held on to a convincing lead and the records will show that the American was the 2014 Kima ladies champion. In the male race, Kilian Jornet had the race of his life and in doing so broke his own course record.
Fabio Meraldi makes an appearance and like a long lost son is embraced into the arms and hearts of the Skyrunning throng:
“I remember the feeling, like a drug, feeling this moving energy… I still get goose-bumps just talking about it.”
The party atmosphere continues and minutes after the award ceremony, clouds turn from grey to black and a warning clap of thunder alerts everyone that a change is coming. The heavens open and rain falls from the sky like a series of rods being thrown. It’s a biblical storm and we all look at each other and simultaneously shake our heads. Lauri relays our thoughts, “Wow, thank god this rain and storm did not arrive during the race.”
Another race over, another successful event but there is no rest. This evening a glass of red and a nice meal but tomorrow it’s back to the grind. Another race is only weeks away and like déjà vu the process will repeat itself.
“Lauri, and you, your dreams?”
“To expand Skyrunning and see the growth continue with the collaboration from those who love the sport as we do.”
“Will you ever be able to let go?”
“Why, why would I want to let go? This is my life: I love it. Maybe I would like less stress but I like challenges, I like work and I don’t like to be bored.”
I smile knowing full well that her words are true and that in all honesty, I already knew the answer.
“One thing is for sure, I won’t be in the Bahamas filing my nails everyday, I can guarantee that will never happen.”
The KIMA galleries:
Fast and Light is released on October 20th 2015 at 1600 via Salomon SRTV HERE
Credits and thanks
Quotes from Bruno Brunod, Fabio Meraldi, Emelie Forsberg and Kilian Jornet are taken from the film, FAST and LIGHT. ©TheAfricanAttachment and ©SalomonRunning.
Many thanks to Lauri van Houten and Marino Giacometti the ISF and Skyrunning.
Many thanks to Trofeo Kima and all the staff.
All images and content ©iancorless.com
A series of articles will be published worldwide to coincide with the release of Fast and Light and I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the editors and creatives involved in this process.
Look out for articles in: Adventure Types – Australia/ NZ, Canadian Running Magazine – Canada, Trail Chile – Chile, TRAIL Magazin – Germany, Ski Alper – Italy, Trail Run – Japan, Poland, ALERG – Romania, Running The Cape – South Africa, Outdoor Fitness Magazine – UK, Like The Wind – UK, Nature Trail – France, Spain and many more.