the north face bivacco zeni fiasco

The North Face: Zeni Bivouac marketing fiasco in Dolomites

Outdoor apparel company The North Face (TNF) is being currently sharply criticized on social networks and has waded into one major controversy in Italy, following its last marketing event in Valle San Nicolò, in the heart of Fassa Dolomites.

The North Face, also for this year, organized their so-called annual Mountain Festival, also dubbed Pinnacle Project, an outdoor event to be held in Valle san Nicolò during the week-end from July 27th to 29th. As a result the access to the valley has been limited for 3 days.

Local climber, developer and climbing legend Heinz Mariacher, who bolted hundred of routes in Valle San Nicolò, commented in his Facebook profile that he “couldn’t climb in San Nicolò for 3 days, because the road was closed, with special permission given only to sponsored athletes, staff and press. The North Face takes a whole valley in possession, flies around with helicopters all day long, covers alpine meadows with big tents and shows us that with money you can buy everything and anybody! Great message for a so-called outdoor company“!


the north face bivacco zeni fiasco


The Zeni Bivouac

Something even more annoying happened to two other climbers, that, in the afternoon of July 23rd, several days before the actual event, were heading to Zeni Bivouac in Vallaccia (a lateral valley of Valle San Nicolò, a couple of hours of hike away) with the plan of sleeping there and climbing a classic route on the next day. The Zeni Bivuoac is an unattended sleeping hut for hikers and climbers and is a property of the Italian Alpine Club.

Access to the hut is free both for Italian Alpine Club members and for anybody looking for a shelter in the valley. As reported on the website Gognablog, the two climbers found the Bivouac closed and with a new shiny paint job with multiple TNF logos on the walls.

After a good hour of headlamp search the two eventually found the key of the door, only to discover that the sleeping facilities had been removed and a number of garments, backpacks and bags were hanging from the walls.

The Zeni Hut had indeed been transformed into an exclusive store, which was rebranded by TNF marketing specialist Temporary Pop Up Point, as explained on the company website:

2100 METERS: THE HIGH ALTITUDE STORE. Located in Valle San Nicolò, in the very heart of Dolomites, the TPUP can only be reached on foot. A 2 hours hike awaits anybody who would want to put his hands on one of these highly collectible and iconic pieces of garment. The TPUP will remain open for 8 days, giving to the brave explorers (?!?) the chance to admire and capure the spirit and legacy of TNF Athletes.

Inside the hut the two climbers found original expedition gear donated by The North Face Athletes like Alex Honnold, Xavier de la Rue, Caroline Ciavaldini, Hervè Barmasse, David Göttler, Tamara Lunger, James Pearson and Conrad Anker. Garments and bags are currently being auctioned off for chartity on this site, so that you can become part of the athletes’ lagacy as well.

The two climbers, after having briefly evaluated the option of stealing everything and despite the impossibility of having a good sleep, because of the missing beds, eventually managed to complete their route on the next day. When they returned to the Bivouac they could speak with TNF staff, who confirmed that, despite the missing warning signs at the beginning of the trail, due to a “regrettable organisational problem”, the Zeni Bivouac would have been closed down from July 19th to Aug 23rd.



Rumors are that TNF paid 15k euros to the Italian Alpine Club for the use of the Zeni Hut during that period, and agreed to put up warning signs for climbers and hikers at the beginning of the trail and in nearby mountain shelters, plus to arrange for an alternative sleeping facility. Warning signs appeared only after 26th and no alternative sleeping facility was arranged.

Other climbers and mountaineers, who were climbing and hiking in the area during the week-end, reported a very noisy power generator switched on till late, and multiple heli trips for taking back and forth press and other TNF Ambassadors visiting the Zeni Bivouac. Not bad for an eco-friendly outdoor company.

While the outrage is mounting on social networks against TNF’s aggressive marketing practices, at least one lesson is learned: next time you are planning your 2/3 days weekend adventure in the wild, apart from the wheather forecast, also remember to browse the major oudoor companies websites, in order to check if that particular valley is closed, if access to it is only limited to helicoptered staff, or, worst scenario of all, if a TPUP, containing some sport ambassadors’ relics, has been set up without prior notice and/or without nodoby knowing. Owning your own copter might also be a good idea. #neverstopexploting

We also wonder if Alex Honnold, among the other athletes, who recently has been trying to lobby US Congress in defense of the public land, is fully aware that his name is being associated with this mess.


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