ALPINISM: Application as an Intangible Cultural World Heritage

Featured, Membership, Mountain Protection, Mountaineering, UIAA

The following information has been put forward by the Fédération française des clubs alpins et de montagne (FFCAM) and produced in collaboration with UIAA honorary member Claude Eckhardt.


The UIAA supports the many facets that make up the mountaineering movement. Among them, alpinism is an activity with special and high human, social and cultural values.

Alpinism is undoubtedly a sport, requiring both athletic qualities and technical expertise. However, it is not enough to define it by these mere aspects, nor by other features like the exploration of fascinating landscapes or the simple quest of achievement. Alpinism is all of that, and characterized by a frame of mind of personal engagement, sense of self-responsibility, knowledge of its natural ‘playground’ and also a “response to the propensity which impels one to move from the known to the unknown, even on modest climbs” (B. Putnam).

Since the end of the 18th century, alpinism was continuously, and is still, developing at a tremendous pace, married to the natural human spirit of searching for new achievements, something which everyone tackles at their own level, a fundamental characteristic of alpinism as an activity.

These are the “good things inherited from the past, the strong core values and traditions, but continuously evolving” (F. Vrijlandt).


These exceptional characteristics, its historical and cultural backgrounds, make alpinism a notion worth identifying as an Intangible Cultural World Heritage of outstanding and universal human and social value.

Promotion of this extremely gratifying activity should be more widespread and be clearly defined to prevent misuse of the term and consequently devaluation of this outstanding concept.

At the very least, as the worldwide representative federation of alpine associations, the UIAA is involved in the on-going efforts for alpinism to gain recognition in the UNESCO list of ICH (Intangible cultural heritage). It is also the opportunity for UIAA member associations to cooperate in the description of this subject.


An application to UNESCO has to be presented by one country through its official UNESCO governmental representative. This country needs to be supported by at least one, or preferably more, representatives of several countries who are members of the UNESCO Convention and who have inserted the object of the demand in their own respective Intangible Cultural Heritage (=ICH) list.

At present, the insertion of alpinism has already occurred in France, and is at a more or less advanced state of discussion with governmental and/or administrative bodies of several important countries in terms of alpine heritage: notably Italy and Switzerland. An international working group is coordinating the efforts in these countries, in close cooperation with the respective Alpine Clubs. They are also supported by renowned alpinists from diverse countries, including several UIAA honorary members.

UIAA member associations of countries which are members of the UNESCO convention are kindly invited to cooperate to this proposal, being aware that deadline is extremely tight for:

  • Presenting an application for insertion in their respective national ICH list to the competent authorities, with a wording in line with that presently in preparation for the common application to UNESCO.
  • Inviting these authorities to join the application or at least to issue a statement supporting the application to UNESCO.

To avoid a lengthy postponement to the process, it is imperative that this application is submitted to UNESCO by 20 March, 2018.

Interested UIAA member associations can obtain more details from the FFCAM representative in the aforementioned international working group, via the UIAA office,