On the day of Toni Gobbi’s death, it was forbidden to pronounce his name in Courmayeur, the town which guards access to Mont Blanc from Italy. It was not an official affair, no municipality imposed such silence. It was an emotional consequence, the pain, the disbelief of the loss, a hole that banished from conversations the name and surname of the most beloved, charismatic and revolutionary mountain guide that the people had known. To avoid having to bear the open wound of his loss, everyone pretended that a bad dream had taken him away. Toni Gobbi’s grandson, Oliviero Gobbi, never met him and his figure was always ghostly: neither his father, nor his mother, nor his grandmother spoke of him. “But I went to my grandmother’s house, and it was like a freeze frame in which I could see Toni’s mountain jackets, his crampons, his ice axe, his skis… everything seemed ready for him to come back from the mountain in a moment “… in another”… but that never happened, explains Oliviero. An avalanche had killed him, as well as three of his clients, during a simple ski trip mountain in Sassopiatto, in 1970, when he was 56. But everyone believed that he would die behind the wheel, because he had learned to drive late and liked to step on the accelerator. No one would ever accept that the mountain takes them away.
When his grandmother died in 2008, Oliviero decided to highlight his grandfather’s legacy, resurrect him in a sense. It seemed too sad to him that oblivion was the end of him. fifteen years later the documentary has just premiered at BBK Mendifilm in Bilbao Toni’s footprint, which is both a tribute to the deceased figure and a legacy for new generations of guides and mountaineers who wish to understand his way of relating to the mountain.
Toni Gobbi was surely the first guide in Courmayeur not to have been born there. He came from Veneto and had studied law: he was a cultured man, extremely elegant, with an actor’s demeanor and an irrepressible love for the mountains, but all this was only an obstacle to being accepted in the city and to enter the company of guides. In a rural, isolated community (the Mont Blanc tunnel had not yet been built), strangers were strangers for life. He began working as a teacher, with his wife, opened a bookstore and a mountain store and in 1946 he managed to be accepted as a local guide: “He had the intelligence not to force our world with his presence and at the same time, he brought “a breath of fresh air, with education”, remembers Ruggero Pellin, also a guide and one of those interviewed by Oliviero.
If Toni had his own store, his grandson Oliviero is today CEO and owner of Grivel, a world-renowned company which mainly manufactures crampons and ice axes and which sponsors many of the mountaineering elite. In the 1950s, the image of Walter Bonatti, for many the greatest mountaineer who ever existed and always will exist, shone like a beacon. If Bonatti were God, those who were accepted as rope companions could be designated as his apostles. Toni Gobbi was one of them, and together they solved the first ascent of the Grand Pilier D’Angle, a 4,243 meter pile of rock and ice whose summit has remained inaccessible and which appears as one of the guardians of the Mont Blanc. The documentary recovers a television interview in which the journalist asks the protagonists if they would do it again: “Why, if we have just returned? », replies Bonatti with a certain sarcasm.
More precisely, Gobbi tries to put out the small fire by trying to explain that there are many challenges to overcome and that mountaineering is not a simple repetition of the same movement. Toni Gobbi always wanted to create a healthy atmosphere. “But he had a slightly dark side, let’s say: in the mountains, he had a military demeanor with his clients and if he said it was white, it was indeed the case. He might scold his clients if they don’t do what he says, but I think the guide must be authoritarian when making decisions that affect the safety of the group,” explains Oliveiro and echoes other testimonies which ensure that his gray eyes could oscillate between softness and cold. “Bonatti and Gobbi got along very well, but Bonatti got along badly with almost all the Courmayeur guides because he had a strong character, a trait that he did not should not be confused with a bad character”, he explains. In 1958, Bonatti and Gobbi joined forces again with a large Italian expedition to face Gasherbrum IV (7,925 m), a mountain which, although it barely reaches 8,000 meters, is much more technical and complex than any of the others. eight thousand which surround it. On this occasion everyone knew that Bonatti had chosen Carlo Mauri to reach the top, and Gobbi was one of those who worked hardest in this direction, accepting to lose importance. His ability to read the mountain and organize a strategy was one of the reasons for the success of the expedition.
The process of investigating his grandfather’s life gave Oliviero a unique perspective on his figure and many surprises: “It’s amazing how intensely and clearly these 90-year-olds remembered my grandfather. father, anecdotes, dates, just as if it had happened. not 50 or 60 years ago, but yesterday. We found almost four hours of video filmed by different clients in which my grandfather appears, and that made me decide to make a documentary instead of just writing his story. One of the most accurate accounts comes from Toni’s younger sister, Marilena, born 17 years later. Toni was almost a father to her and today, despite his 92 years, he moves the camera with a speech full of sincerity.
It is possible that Toni Gobbi’s great achievement was to revolutionize the way of guiding, which had barely changed in 150 years of history. “Young guides today will appreciate this documentary especially because they don’t know what it was like to guide 70 years ago. Before, the guides worked in July and August because sport climbing, neither on ice nor in mountain skiing as we know it today, did not exist. My grandfather wanted the guide to be able to work all year round, or for as many months of the year as possible. Nowadays, a guide can still work, travel of course. It was my grandfather who introduced mountain skiing to the guiding culture. It was revolutionary because his education was superior and he was very enterprising in business. Also because his passion was enormous and he worked hard to make a living from what he loved. I think that today we would not like to see that there are a lot of taxi guides, guides who could be anything and who have neither passion nor mountain culture. He said that the guide is useful because it offers a public service,” explains Oliviero. Few guides know that Gobbi promoted the creation of the International Union of Mountain Guide Associations. Ultimately, he assures, the reason for his documentary is not just about the search for myth but with the need for mountaineering to be taken into account, because “more than an activity, it is an attitude towards life”. This is why he regrets that Gobbi’s premature death deprived him of writing several books as a legacy: “My grandfather was clear that mountaineering had to be explained.”
Those who knew and survived Toni Gobbi still cannot shake the surprise of her absence, like her sister Marilena: “There was a time when we all hated the mountains, of course… but we couldn’t hate them because Toni loved them so much…”
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