International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation UIAA Interview

UIAA Promotes Climbing and Mountaineering Internationally
UIAA Promotes Climbing and Mountaineering Internationally. Source: UIAA.
The UIAA is an international federation which represents climbers and mountaineers from across the globe. The acronym UIAA stands for Union internationale des associations d’alpinisme, which can be translated from French into International Union of Alpine Associations. However the the organisation is more widely known as the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation.

The UIAA has 82 member associations worldwide, representing almost 1.3 million individual climbers and mountaineers. In UK there are two member associations of the UIAA, namely the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and The Alpine Club (TAC).

What is the UIAA?

What exactly do the UIAA do and how do they help individual mountaineers, climbers and member associations? We asked Judith Safford, Executive Director of the UIAA, for an insight into the UIAA and their work.

International Union of Alpine Associations Logo

International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation Interview How long has the UIAA been established?

Judith Safford: It was founded in 1932 when 20 mountaineering associations met in Chamonix, France for an alpine congress. They wanted to start an international federation which would be in charge of the

study and solution of all problems regarding mountaineering.

One of those problems was the lack of a universal climbing grade system, which was finally resolved with the creation of the UIAA climbing grade 40 years later. Count Charles Egmond d’Arcis from Switzerland became the first president and he gave the new federation the name UIAA – Union Internationale des Association d’Alpinisme. What are the main functions of the UIAA?

Judith Safford: I think this question is best answered in the UIAA Mission Statement, which was approved earlier this year: In order to promote the growth of mountaineering and climbing, the UIAA strives to:

preserve their spirit and traditions, advance safe and ethical mountain practices, promote responsible access, culture and environmental protection [as well as] support youth participation and the Olympic movement. Who are the most famous climbers / mountaineers that are (or have been) involved with the UIAA?

Judith Safford: Famous is rather subjective. I would rather highlight the UIAA honorary members: Walter Bonatti, Robbert Leopold, William Lowell Putnam, Jordi Pons-Sangines, and Pit Schubert. Mr Schubert, from Germany, was made an honorary member last year not only for his climbing exploits but for his pioneering efforts to make mountaineering safer through the introduction of safety standards for equipment. How is the UIAA funded?

Judith Safford: Mainly through membership fees from national federations and licencing fees for the internationally recognised UIAA Safety Label that you see on mountaineering equipment. It gives climbers the assurance that when they buy a piece of equipment, it meets the highest standards.

UIAA Safety Label BlueUIAA Safety Label White
The UIAA Safety Label logo trademark is registered internationally. It can only be used on climbing and mountaineering equipment which have been certified to meet UIAA safety standards and registered by the UIAA. How does the UIAA promote mountaineering and climbing?

Judith Safford: Mainly through its contacts with national federations, by providing invaluable advice on standards and practices such as safety which I’ve already mentioned, as well as training and medical issues. UIAA commissions also work to assist its members on issues such as access and mountain protection. Of course, the UIAA also promotes the sport through its website and monthly newsletter which informs interested parties, including mountaineering and climbing magazines, of the latest developments. How can the UIAA help people who are new to climbing and mountaineering?

Judith Safford: One of the UIAA’s most active commissions is its Youth body, which, among other tasks, co-organises international events to assist national federations with youth meets.

UIAA Mountain Protection Commission raises awareness of the need to take care of the mountain environment, and preserve mountain cultures. Dawa Steven Sherpa nominated by the UIAA for the IOC Environmental Award.
Dawa Steven Sherpa nominated by the UIAA for the IOC Environmental Award. Source: UIAA. How does the UIAA help indigenous peoples in mountain regions and promote environmental awareness to mountaineers and climbers?

Judith Safford: This task is taken care of by the UIAA Mountain Protection Commission which raises awareness through various activities of the need to take care of the mountain environment, and preserve mountain cultures. The UIAA is pleased to have as the commission’s new president, Linda McMillan who is an executive member of the IUCN-WCPA Mountains Biome network. She brings to the job tremendous experience and commitment. Can climbers and mountaineers become involved in UIAA projects which help protect natural resources in mountain regions?

Judith Safford: The UIAA’s job is to support local institutions, not to carry out projects itself. That said, we are happy to inform people of UIAA-supported projects, and help make connections. What are the biggest challenges that the UIAA currently faces?

Judith Safford: The world of mountaineering and climbing has changed enormously in recent years. In earlier times the UIAA played an important role supporting federations and individuals planning their tours. Today you can even book a tour to the summit of Everest on the internet. The resulting commercialisation of mountaineering and climbing has had positive aspects in making our sport more accessible, but also has raised ethical questions about the way our sport is practised. Global warming and other environmental problems of degradation are also big issues for mountaineering. Mountaineers have been aware of melting glaciers for many years, and the destruction of the mountaineering environment touches us personally because a love of nature is common to almost all mountaineers. The “playing fields” of our sport are in intact environment, so the UIAA must help support ways to protect the mountains. Finally there are increasing concerns in society about the effects of current lifestyles on health and the practice of sports. Many of our federations are experiencing a decrease in membership, and wish to find ways to attract more people to our sport, particularly Youth. What are the most exciting projects that the UIAA has planned for the future?

Judith Safford: Members of the UIAA executive are working on the development of a new code of best practices and ethics. It is currently in the consultation phase. The aim is to have the code approved at the annual General Assembly in Porto, Portugal in October this year.

Thank you Judith for telling us about the organisation, aims and work of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA). For more information visit the UIAA’s website.

It is worth noting that our every day activities have an effect on the mountain environment. By contributing to global warming through our carbon emissions we are all indirectly responsible for glaciers melting in mountainous regions of the world. Many mountaineers and climbers are involved in campaigns to stop climate change, including Pro Ski-Mountaineer and Climber Alison Gannet. Alison suggests calculating your carbon footprint as a starting point to help you reduce your emissions.

If you enjoyed reading this interview you might be interested in our interviews with Steve Long – Chief Officer for Mountain Leader Training Association and Colonel Ravinder Nath of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.


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