Above the tree line with Jacopo Bufacchi

Posted by Maike Kottig on

Jacopo Bufacchi, member of the Swedish Mountain Guides Association and part of Fjällräven’s test team, didn’t really have a choice; the mountains became a part of who he is when he was just 13 years old.


Mountains have always been a given part of mountain guide Jacopo Bufacchi’s life. They are where he has achieved his dreams. They are where he has grown as a person and learnt about himself. Through his work, they are also where he has helped others reach their dreams and helped them to grow. Not only as climbers but also as people. 



For the layman, it might sound frightening and risky to choose a career as a mountain guide. You have to be able to trust that your often inexperienced client at the other end of the rope won’t step off the edge as they navigate an exposed traverse, for example. And that they can still concentrate on the task of belaying you even after 24 hours of climbing with no sleep.


The kid that climbed 

Being a mountain guide involves a high level of risk management. Successful risk management means that more people’s dreams are fulfilled. Italian Jacopo Bufacchi decided to be a mountain guide when he was just a child. Born and bred in the Aosta Valley in northwest Italy, with a ski instructor and mountain rescue team member for a father, the mountains were part of his everyday life from birth. Jacopo climbed his first 4000-metre peak with his father when he was only 13. It was Dent du Géant, an iconic granite tooth in the Mount Blanc Massif that reaches straight for the sky on the border between Courmayeur in Italy and Chamonix in France.



“The whole experience put me on a massive high. And I was so proud! That was when I decided that I would be a mountain guide,” says Jacopo.


Becoming a Mountain Guide

It marked the start of many intensive years of climbing and preparing. To even just apply for a mountain guide course you have to be able to list a lot of completed climbs, carried out in both summer and winter, with and without skis.


“I climbed and I climbed. And we made a lot of mistakes, my climbing friends and I,” says Jacopo with a laugh. ”We did some crazy things! But we learnt from all of them and we also learnt a lot about ourselves. How to take responsibility, to take care of and trust other people. And to dare to challenge ourselves.”



I see a danger in getting comfortable and doing the same climbs over and over again. Danger increases when things start to become routine.

JACOPO BUFACCHII - Member of the Swedish Mountain Guides Association and part of Fjällräven’s test team


The minimum age for the mountain guide course is 18 years. Jacopo was born on the last day of the year so he took a chance and applied as a 17 year old. He was successful and was accepted onto the Aosta Valley Guide Course UVGAM. At the age of 20 he applied to be part of the Aosta Rescue Team that covers the MatterhornMonte Rosa and Mont Blanc. This gave him invaluable experience on his journey towards becoming a mountain guide. It was a tough course; Jacopo was younger than the other students and had to work hard. On the last assessment day, they climbed the north face of Piz Badile, a mountain in the east of Switzerland on the Italian border. It was a really tough climb – so hard that the students were angry with their instructors. When they reached the hut in the evening, the warden Bruno had prepared shots of grappa for them.


Pride and experience 

“It doesn’t matter if you passed the course or not, you should all be very proud of yourselves,” said Bruno as he welcomed them in. And the party was underway!


Jacopo graduated at the tender age of 23 – the youngest ever. Later on he became an instructor for Italian Mountain Rescuers. His passion for the mountains led to a career that took him to dizzying heights. In addition to his guiding job in the Alps, Jacopo has been on about 30 expeditions to the Himalayas and South America. His bond with Peru is especially strong after volunteering there in his holidays, training young people to be mountain guides and giving them the chance to support themselves and break the poverty cycle. He was involved in the founding of Bolivia’s first mountain rescue team that has the same standards as those found in Europe. “I’m very proud of everything I’ve done,” says Jacopo thoughtfully. Along the way, he crossed paths with a Swedish girl and fell in love. To start with, the couple lived in Courmayeur. Jenny accompanied Jacopo on several of his guiding trips, which was a great solution as Jacopo was away from home so much. But all that changed when the children came – Jacopo felt he was needed in a way he hadn’t been previously and this feeling grew stronger and stronger.



“When one of my best friends, who had a daughter the same age as mine, died in the mountains I really had to stop and think. This isn’t going to work in the long term, I thought to myself. So we moved to Stockholm, where we still live today.”

Creating life balance

Jacopo’s greatest fear is that the mountains will become routine for him. But with the balance he has now between his job at Recco in Stockholm and guiding trips out in the world, every day in the mountains is a true joy. The ambition to be better and to develop as a guide the whole time is strong. This means he has to constantly challenge himself with new products and trips. Jacopo sees a danger in getting comfortable and doing the same climbs over and over again. Danger increases when things start to become routine.



Finding clients who you can build long-term relationships with is important. Clients who you enjoy and can trust. He has no problem saying no to clients, and if they display the wrong attitude, he will say no to a job. “Their lives are in my hands. And my life, if we are unlucky, can be in their hands. Having returning clients is something that I am so thankful for. When my clients show me total trust, when they don’t question my decisions, I’m happy. It’s fantastic to have regular returning clients, who I have a bond with.”


Long term relationships

Strong relationships have been built over the years. Take Barbara, for example, now 74, and godmother to his children.


”She’s incredible. The list of mountains she has climbed and skied is impressive. One particular memory I have of Barbara is when we skied down Whymper Couloir from Aiguille Verte in Mont Blanc Massif (a steep and exposed ravine, 4000 metres above sea level with a 50-degree slope, editor’s note). The conditions weren’t perfect. When I turned around to tell her to be careful, she was perched on the edge of the steep ravine, with her poles tucked between her knees, fixing her hair, like she was about to ski a green slope.”


The best moments as a mountain guide are when he helps his clients reach their dreams.

JACOPO BUFACCHII - Member of the Swedish Mountain Guides Association and part of Fjällräven’s test team


Jacopo thinks that the best moments as a mountain guide are when he helps his clients reach their dreams. Seeing their tears of happiness brings true joy to his heart. The hardest aspect of being a mountain guide is when friends and colleagues die in the mountains – when something happens due to nature, not due to human error. Rockslides for example. The mountains in the Alps have changed dramatically in recent years due to climate change. Rockslides have become more and more common.


Life school of the mountains

 When asked what dreams he has left to fulfil, he doesn’t hesitate before answering: “Pass my love of the mountains on to my daughters – I’m really looking forward to that. That’s my biggest dream now. Mountain life is the best life school you can give a child.”


Jacopo explains how they are thinking of moving from Tyresö to Värmdö in Stockholm. But his oldest daughter doesn’t want to. She can, however, imagine moving from Tyresö to Courmayeur. It seems that a love of the mountains is already flourishing in the next generation of the Bufacchis.

First published on Foxtrail, www.fjallraven.com 

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