21 Nov 2022

People of Livigno: The Story of Epi Bormolini

Reading 10min
Foto di Epi Bormolini di Livigno, con un paio di scarponi da montagna in mano.

An athlete by passion, a smuggler by necessity, a mountain guide by calling. The only constants in his life are a love of the mountains and Livigno. 


Epi Bormolini is 66 years old but has already lived at least 5 lives: he was an athlete by passion, a smuggler by necessity, a mountain guide by calling, a politician by experience. And then son, father, husband, grandfather. The only things that have remained constant in his life are his love for the mountains and for Livigno. He has the rough hands of someone who has lived in contact with nature, bright eyes, skin darkened by the high-altitude sun and two moustaches of yesteryear. "My father wanted to register me as Epi, but it was unthinkable for a child to not be named after a saint, so he gave in to calling me Giuseppe. When I first started as a mountain guide there were 3 of us, and we were all called Giuseppe. If you add that in Livigno half of the people have the same surname, you can understand why everyone has always called me Epi". 


Foto di Epi Bormolini di Livigno



What is the best memory of your childhood here in Livigno?

The first time I put on skis at 6 years old. They were made of wood and they were so beautiful. My uncle had brought them back from Switzerland for me. They were strictly cross-country skis because my father felt that it was the most suitable sport for a child: it immediately gives you stability and balance. I really wanted to make him proud, so I used to leave the house and walk the trail alone, hoping it wouldn't snow otherwise I would have had to start from scratch! There were no ski clubs in those days! And then I remember my first race, the Italian Championships in Tarvisio when I was 14 years old: I finished 11th but it was a triumph for my father and I was very happy.


Was he an athlete?

No, he had learned to ski mainly out of necessity... remember that from the end of the 19th century to the early 1960s, parts of Italy were poverty-stricken and smuggling was a particularly widespread activity in this area and even my father happened to fare lo spallone (smuggle). He was one of those guys who arrived on skis at the border carrying a bricolla, a large backpack made of woven straw weighing up to 30kg, full of coffee or cigarettes. The smugglers travelled steep and dangerous paths to avoid the official routes, patrolled by Italian customs officers, or by border guards. It was forbidden, it was dangerous, but it was a necessity. At the age of 18, I myself had to abandon my dream of being an athlete to earn money, and I can’t deny that I also used to be a "smuggler". You left at night, you had to know the mountain like the back of your hand, unload your bag at the agreed point and, if all went well, you earned 5 thousand lire.


What does it mean to live in a borderland and especially a mountain border?

It means always looking out for your neighbours, having a continuous exchange, always maintaining your own identity. The Livignese community has managed to open up to the world while remaining true to itself, protected, and at the same time closed by the mountains, the geography of the land has shaped its history. A plateau surrounded by mountains in the heart of the Rhaetian Alps, a stone's throw from the Swiss border. The mountaineer and journalist Alfredo Martinelli called it Piccolo Tibet (Little Tibet) the first time he came here and the name stuck.


What makes the mountains of Livigno unique?

The village is situated at 1800 metres, so the mountains around us are not for climbing, but are perfect for walks and excursions. We have vegetation up to high altitudes: larch, stone pine, mountain pine and spruce are our characteristic trees, like a fairytale in winter and full of unique colours in the autumn. In summer, the displays of flowers are spectacular.


Foto delle montagne innevate di Livigno

After the age of 18, did you give up your dream of being an athlete forever?

My dream changed. First by becoming a cross-country ski coach, and then by being a mountain guide. I was one of the founders of the Livigno Ski Club and seeing the successes of my athletes in the race gave me the greatest satisfaction. Then I took them to discover the mountain. When kids look up to you, there is not only the sporting aspect. I have always tried to share useful advice, for life even off the slopes. This, in my opinion, should be the role of a coach.


What have you learned after a life in the mountains?

The mountains never cease to fascinate me. Each time is never the same as before. I realised that the key word for living in harmony with the mountains is respect. Being a mountain guide, I learned that it is man who adapts to nature and not the other way around. Once I had taken two tourists to Piz Palù at 3900 meters in the Canton of the Grisons, when suddenly a blizzard struck. The weather had suddenly deteriorated, a storm was approaching, and it was imperative to descend as fast as possible to the valley. The couple, however, had a panic attack and didn't want to move. Their safety was at risk. I was forced to give them a slap to bring them round and get them moving down the mountain. Once down in the valley they hugged and thanked me. Going to the summit is not a necessity but making it home certainly is.


How do you preserve the traditions of the area in a rapidly changing world?

It is our responsibility to pass on traditions to the future generations. My granddaughter has just been born, her name is Mia and she is the most wonderful gift that life could give me after Covid took my wife away. I can't wait to teach Mia how to ski, I will teach her to recognise flowers and medicinal plants, to treat bruises with arnica and stomach ache with mountain pine extract that can be found on our mountains. And then I'll take her to see the Olympics here in Livigno.


Where would you take a tourist coming to Livigno for the first time in 2026?

First of all, I would take them to the museum in Livigno to introduce them to a bit of history. Then I would take them to the top of the mountain for a breathtaking 360° view and lastly to dinner! I would take them to try local dishes that very few people know about. In the past, the most important crop here was turnips because at 1800m potatoes, buckwheat and rye couldn’t grow. This gave rise to ancient recipes such as Pan de Carcent, a traditional bread from Livigno where chopped turnips were mixed with flour, but above all li lughénia da pàsola, a "poor man’s sausage" made from turnips. Today there are specialties which are even more precious than bresaola and are almost impossible to find. But all the tourists of 2026 are in good hands, leave it to me to introduce them to our cuisine!


Foto di Epi Bormolini di Livigno, con un paio di scarponi da montagna in mano.
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