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The master and the apprentice: Robert Antonioli and Stefano Confortola

 - Athletes

Valfurva rhymes with ski mountaineering. Up there, in the shadow of Gran Zebrù and Cevedale, together with San Matteo, Tresero and the other peaks in the Forni chain, you will find the perfect playground, if you want to zigzag your way up a slope and then make turns on the way down. It comes as no surprise, then, that our athletes Robert Antonioli and Stefano Confortola stem from there: the acclaimed star and the young gun who recently paid a visit to our Premana HQ, before buying up several medals at the Italian Championships (two gold medals and a bronze one for Robert, a bronze one for Stefano). Antonioli and Confortola worked with our designers, they met the Premana Ski Mountaineering Team, amid many commitments, being lovers of speed, they even found time for an all-encompassing chat. Enjoy!

Let’s start with you, Robert. Being such an acclaimed champion, what does being a CAMP athlete mean?
«It means a lot to me. I have always employed CAMP products, I had a ball working with an Italian manufacturer who’s been a game player for quite some time in this field. I believe it stands for enhanced safety both during skimo races and in the mountains in general».

Which are your favourite products?
«Crampons, first of all, which CAMP managed to evolve in a staggering way. I’m thinking about the new Skimo Total Race, giving me the necessary speed during gear changes I was looking for: it’s simply out of this world! Then the Corsa Nanotech ice axe: in the mountains, or on a not-so-technical terrain, its lightness makes it a jewel. The Rapid Racing pack is simply unique: unsurpassed for races, the most practical and fastest of them all, guaranteeing perfection during changes of gear».

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Stefano, what makes CAMP products special, in your opinion?
«In a nutshell: I adore them. I have always used them, ever since I started with ski mountaineering and wouldn’t surely think about changing them».

Speaking of which, how did you discover ski mountaineering?
«In a rather natural way, since my family runs the Branca Hut in the Forni valley and, when it snows, you must reach it with your skis. I devoted myself to downhill skiing at first, then I got tired of groomed slopes and decided to rethink my interests. I then moved to ski mountaineering: I took it easy at first, I only wanted to have fun, without thinking about races. Then, after some training, I was infected with the “virus”. I also have to thank Robert if I have run at high levels for the past four years. 2019 will be my first year as Espoir and I believe I will run for Italy in the most prestigious races in the future».

And you, Robert, when did you start competing at the highest level? We do apologise, but we have lost track of that…
«About ten years ago. I started off and, lo and behold, one year later I was part of the National Squad. At the beginning I was head to head with Michele Boscacci… the more I won, the more I felt I wanted to win!»

Where does your motivation stem from? Ski mountaineering offers no big money, neither the fame of soccer, for instance… and it’s really exhausting!
«To be honest, it’s not always easy to find motivation. You may win the Pierra Menta, Mezzalama or the World Cup, but you’re unknown to most people outside this circle. And yet, the satisfaction of winning, together with the sheer pleasure of competing, drives me and encourages me not to give up. You set off, you win and then you can say: I’ve done a good job today, they were all behind me! I have to admit that, if I win because I skied well during the descent, too, well, then I will jump for joy».

Stefano, are you envious of Robert?
«I’d like to have his determination, his will to perform better and better each time».

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Robert, what sets you apart from other athletes?
«The fact that I always wear a number for a reason: I want to win. Off I go and it’s full speed ahead. Wearing my number feels magical and gives me a massive head start. Other athletes are strong while training, too, while I feel the effect of the chest number. I may not excel while training, as if something were missing, but I get excited during competitions and I fight a fair battle».

What are your plans for 2019?
«The World Cup, quite clearly, both the championships and the individual one. I also aim at the Mezzalama Trophy and the Adamello Ski Raid. The calendar means it gets rather chaotic, with the Adamello right after the Cup finals. But the Adamello is my home race and I’d like to try and win it. The Mezzalama does not take place on mountains close to home, but if you win it, just like with the Pierra Menta and PDG, you will become a ski mountaineering hero!».

The World Cup still feels like something special, wouldn’t you say, Robert…?
«Absolutely: it’s an individual competition where you run against all the others (who are top athletes and have come to win). They are also dynamic races, which can change at the drop of a hat. I have to admit that, the more the rhythm of the race is broken, with many ascents and descents, the better I feel. Let’s not forget the show: short ascents are tackled head on, giving all you have, and ranks are decided there and then. In the longest routes, instead, you need to save energy and the risk is that the end result gets decided by how fast you are during changes of gear».

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Stefano, am I right in saying that, from time to time, you engage in descents that are not to everyone’s taste?
«Yes. In the spring, on the north face of Pasquale or of San Matteo, for instance. They are not that steep in the end and, quite honestly, I don’t find them so enticing… I much prefer competitions!».

In addition to skiing, you also give a hand at your family hut…
«I’ve been doing so ever since I was at school: I attended classes in the morning and I was at the hut in the afternoon. Right now, from March to September, you’ll find me there, unless I am out and about training».

Robert, what is your relationship with training?
«My excitement grows during competitions, I’ve said that before, but training… well, it’s not my cup of tea, really. I’d much rather go up an attractive mountain, along an interesting ridge: this way, in addition to struggling, I will also have fun».

What about you, Stefano, do you enjoy getting tired?
«That depends. If you’re in good company, it’s a piece of cake. Otherwise I share Robert’s thoughts...».

The next question is for both of you: why should a young boy start ski mountaineering, instead of another sport? Let’s start with Stefano…
«Come rain or shine, the emotions you’ll experience are simply priceless».

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What’s your take on this, Robert?
«Ski mountaineering takes you where piste skiers cannot and will never get. I’m thinking about some hidden, remote couloirs with untouched snow: skiing them is just awesome!».

What about competitions? Why should one engage with them? Let’s hear your views, Robert...
«That’s a good question. Let’s see… Competitions mean you’ll train harder, training harder means you’ll struggle less, in itself meaning that you’ll go up more mountains and down more unspoilt couloirs. Jokes aside: challenges are appealing and give great personal satisfaction. How shall I put it… Races mean big scuffles take place and it’s hard to define the emotions you’ll live. Winning is fabulous, highly exciting».

Stefano, what about you...
«Well, beating the others is cool... but it’s also great to beat ourselves!».

One last question: do you always keep an eye on the stopwatch when you go to the mountains, even if you are not training?
«Absolutely. We ran the Thirteen Peaks last year: the conditions were perfect and we never had to wear any crampons».

How long did that take you?
«9 hours and 52 minutes from Santa Caterina to Santa Caterina, anticlockwise starting from Tresero and going down to the Branca Hut: not bad, right?».

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Ph. Stefano Jeantet, Stefano Confortola and A.S. Premana Skialp