Reaching it is more than easy today, thanks to the Skyway, but things were once very different. Before the famous Mont Blanc cable car was inaugurated, going up to Rifugio Torino was a feat for the few. It was necessary to follow a path, which still exists, starting from Rifugio Pavillon. A long and complex mountaineering-style road that’s now little traveled, especially by climbers who prefer to arrive at the Torino rested and then focus on their mountaineering goals. “The four years when they were building the Skyway were very hard,” recalls Armando, who initially arrived here at the rifugio’s 3,375 meters to support the construction of the cable car. A structure was needed that could welcome and accommodate the workers during the period of the construction project. His presence, between 2011 and 2015, was critically important in ensuring support for the massive construction site.
“A hot meal and a roof over your head, when you’re working in extreme environmental conditions, are worth their weight in gold,” he says. The major difficulties Armando encountered included the immediate need to provide an adequate level of hospitality: “Right from the start, we had to equip ourselves to work even in winter, with temperatures that can reach 20 or 30 degrees below zero.” Then, in 2015, after the inauguration of the cable car, major modernization work gave the rifugio its current appearance.
With the Skyway, the rifugio changed. “From 2012 to today, we’ve seen a constant increase in visitors. We are an international destination. Many people come up to admire the eighth wonder of the world,” Armando says. He knows very well the value of the Torino’s numbers. At Monzino, the other rifugio he manages, the number of visitors is quite different: “I would say less than one-tenth.” Normal, one might say. We’re at the foot of the Freney glacier, and to reach the structure you have to embark on a long walk that requires both fitness and sure footing. Accessibility increases visits. And then you add the sight of the southern face of Mont Blanc. “Beautiful to look at and varied to climb. Starting from the rifugio you can make many different ascents, with something for everyone — both easy and difficult,” he explains. Among the easiest and most famous climbs is certainly the Dente del Gigante, where climbers can start testing the high-elevation rock. A test, if desired, for something that could be more demanding, like the Matterhorn. But the Mont Blanc massif also offers challenging climbs, on historic routes, such as those that run along the vertical lines of the Gran Capucin, a true mountaineering icon. And also the Tour Ronde and Mont Blanc du Tacul. In short, a rich buffet from which you can freely choose your favorite dish.
Experiencing summers as a Mont Blanc rifugio manager is a privilege but also a significant commitment. Not only because of the difficulties involved in offering quality hospitality at a challenging elevation, but above all for the key role of safeguarding the mountain terrain that characterizes a rifugio. Everyone goes to the Torino sooner or later. Ueli Steck stopped for a coffee in 2015, on his way to climbing all 82 of the 4,000-meter Alpine peaks in just 80 days. By now, Matteo Della Bordella, with his comrades from the SMAM (High Mountain Military Section), is at home here. And also other great names in Italian and international mountaineering, who, animated by the same sentiment, meet in this place of mixing and sharing. The same sentiment that drives the hundreds of enthusiasts who flock to the rifugio every day in search of dreams to achieve. Armando and his family will welcome them when they open the door, advise them on the conditions of the routes, and pamper them when they return from their adventures. His experience as a mountain guide is essential here: “The rifugio manager must above all be a guide, or at least have extensive experience in the mountains. He must be a practitioner. I spend entire days on the phone, giving out advice and information on the conditions of the routes and the most suitable equipment. This is also part of the job — a critical part.” A completely different approach from what happens when booking a hotel in a city. The dimension of the rifugio is in a class of its own, a reality that’s often difficult to communicate. The rifugio is a cultural stronghold, a place of culture and environmental protection. Rifugio managers are the first caretakers of the mountains and, in the end, everything stems from a deep passion. “I’ve always had an intense bond with this world — not only with the world of mountaineering but with the mountains in general,” Armando tells us. “Above a thousand meters, you live a different life. I grew up making hay and cleaning up the woods and trails, and then I developed a passion for the vertical world.”
“When I only had Monzino,” he continues, “I was also able to carve out time for my own climbing, but a bit less today. I get the same joy from observing the eyes of those returning from their climbs. You see them, glistening from the wind and cold, full of emotion. Satisfied.” But it isn’t always like this. “Accidents happen, every year. I often tell myself that you have to get used to it, but every time it’s difficult. They all pass through here. They go up full of energy, you have fun together, you learn about their dreams … then someone doesn’t come back.” These are the hardest moments, the ones you never get used to. And there’s no one at fault or guilty. It’s part of the mountain game. It’s part of taking controlled risks to pursue an overwhelming passion and feel alive.