80 years of the UIAA

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The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) turns 80 this month.

The day credited for the birth of the idea of an international federation of climbing clubs is 27 August 1932 and it came about during a meeting that took place at a conference in Chamonix, France (21 August – 3 September 1932) when representatives of 19 countries assembled at the Majestic Hotel

“The common sentiment which unites us must act as a counterweight to the political and economic differences that can divide our peoples; such is the task of reconciliation in which we invite you to participate,” said M. Jean Escarrra, president of the French Alpine Club as he invited associations in Chamonix to support the idea of international organization.

As A. Manaresi, president of the Italian Alpin Club would later observe: “The UIAA must bring together the aristocracy of mountaineering, in other words, all those who do not view mountaineering as an agreeable and munificent sport alone, but who are able to find in it an unsullied ideal of loyalty and kindness which enriches life and makes men better.”

Present were mountaineers from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America and Yugoslavia.

Their goals were broad and ambitious:

  • To study and solve all problems regarding mountaineering in general
  • The preparation of future climbing congresses.

As Pierre Bossus states in his book The first fifty years of International Mountaineering and Climbing Association 1932-1982), the Chamonix meeting was the culmination of a series of conversations that began after the establishment of the Alpine Club in 1857, the Austrian Alpine Association in 1862, the Swiss Alpine Club and Italian Alpine Club in 1863 and the German Alpine Club and French Alpine Club in 1874.

The idea of an international federation gained ground at the Congress of Zakopane in 1930 and Budapest in 1931.

The early goals decided at the Chamonix congress included:

  • The encouragement of mountaineering education for the young
  • The development and standardization of trail markers
  • The posting of avalanche warnings on classic routes
  • The protection of shelters from vandalism
  • The establishment of a system of rating climbing difficulties that would not overlook the importance of meteorological and psychological factors
  • The sitting of shelters in such a fashion that they could be erected at low enough of an altitude to prevent any degradation of the routes they serve as points of departure

Carolin Roeder, a Harvard historian currently researching a history of mountaineering involving transnational relationships between mountaineers earlier told the UIAA: “The story of the UIAA shows how even in the fiercest political climate a small number of enthusiasts worked towards a goal which they regarded valuable enough to mobilize considerable resources.”

“The main task of the UIAA  was to serve as an umbrella organization for at times up to ninety national organizations and as a lobby for issues of access to mountains, reciprocal treatment in club cabins, and the standardization of safety standards and ethical norms values and goals which in a broader sense would later also inform the process of European integration,” said Roeder.

Editor’s Note: The source for the information comes from Les Cinquante Premières Années De L’Union Internationale Des Associations D’Alpinisme (The first fifty years of International Mountaineering and Climbing Association 1932-1982) by Pierre Bossus (Translation in English by Andrew J. Kauffman)  and an earlier interview with Carolin Roeder who is currently researching the archives of the UIAA and various alpine clubs around the world.