MILAN — The COVID-19 pandemic is not stopping Bally from its long-term commitment to the local communities in Nepal, which is also shining a light on a trailblazing female entrepreneur, Yankila Sherpa.
Bally chief executive officer Nicolas Girotto said Nepal was hard hit by the pandemic as its tourism industry supports more than one million jobs and comprises 7.9 percent of its gross domestic product. The Bally Peak Outlook Foundation project, established last year, was able to provide critical income for local communities in the Himalayan region. It helped employ professional climbers, cleaners, sorters, packers, porters, as well as dedicated support teams on the ground at each base camp, who were all native to the mountain region. In 2019, Nepal hosted nearly 1.2 million international arrivals, of which Everest climbers spent about $300 million alone.
The Bally Peak Outlook Foundation has pledged to sponsor critical clean-ups of Mount Everest and seven 8,000-meter peaks in the Himalayan region by 2022, working with the local Sherpa communities.
“Our approach was not to slow down, despite the difficulties of this unprecedented moment, but we moved as a company, partnering and helping the Sherpas and raising awareness on the need to clean up the mountains,” said Girotto. “COVID-19 took a toll on all companies, but it would be a mistake to think in the short term. That’s why we did not change our plans.”
Last fall, Bally returned to the Himalayas fulfilling the first half of its “8 x 8,000 M” pledge to clean up the base camps of Nepal’s eight 8,000-meter mountains. The preservation project will be phased out over two years. Following a delay due to pandemic-related restrictions closing the spring climbing season, Dawa Steven Sherpa, who also led Bally Peak Outlook’s 2019 initiative to clean Everest from base camp to the peak, embarked on a 47-day expedition in September to clean the base camps of Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu, removing 2.2 tons of waste.
Since official trails were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and to avoid inter-village transmission, the climbers took remote routes that were even more dangerous, climbing two mountains, and crossing four alpine glaciated passes. Half of the expedition was composed of ethnic Sherpas, used to living in extreme mountain conditions.
Bally created five short documentaries to highlight the Sherpa voices. Dawa, who is an environmental activist and tourism entrepreneur, introduced Everest in the first episode, having led expeditions that have removed more than 20,000 kg. of garbage since 2008. Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the son of Tenzing Norgay, who first reached the summit of Everest in 1953 with Sir Edmund Hillary while wearing signature Bally Reindeer boots, speaks in the second film.
The third episode features Yankila Sherpa, who hails from Olangchung Gola, a remote village of Eastern Nepal. She speaks to the spiritual relationship that Sherpa communities share with the mountains, including Makalu.
As the chief adviser of the Nepal Mountaineering Association and vice president of the Trans-Himalayan Environment and Livelihood Program, she is an advocate for women’s empowerment and promotes responsible tourism. She is the former tourism minister of Nepal. She has also held various other leadership positions, including former president of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs of Nepal and Trekking Agency Association of Nepal. Her work has included closing the gender gap for women in Nepal’s tourism industry, addressing challenges women locally face in securing funding to own a business and access to education to achieve more senior roles.
“For the Sherpa people, the mountains are the abodes of the gods, so they do a lot of rituals before the climb actually starts. The prayer flags are hung up, and the incense is burnt, and the prayer flags are fluttering, that means now the gods are with me and I am able to climb the mountain successfully. For me the mountains are the most beautiful pieces of heritage on the earth,” she said. “Tourism is also about preserving our Himalayas and the ambience and the atmosphere, the way it was in ancient times. Spiritualism is an integral part of the life of Sherpas and people who live in the high mountain areas, and spiritual places have to be kept pure.”
The fourth documentary follows expert climber Naga Dorjee Sherpa, who was born and raised in the Everest region’s Khumjung village.
Girotto underscored that the Bally Peak Outlook project is “a catalyst” for the employees of the company, each motivated “to do what you can that is within your reach on a day-to-day basis. It’s inspirational. We are not pretending we are solving the problem the environment is facing, but we have been collecting 4.5 tons of waste in two years.”
Bally laid out its Sustainability Roadmap in 2020, based on four pillars: transparency, quality, collaboration and progress. By 2050, the company aims to have net-zero carbon emissions.
“Seventy-five percent of energy comes from renewable energy in our main headquarters in Caslano [Switzerland], ahead of our plans. We have also introduced more sustainable and natural dyes and for spring 2022, we are employing dead stock fabrics, recycled nylon and regenerated leather, equivalent to saving two tons of plastic,” said Girotto.
For fall, Bally raised the bar on eco-friendly materials, unveiling jersey pants in a natural pomegranate dye, for example, or the Cliff bags for men in vegetable-tanned leather, free of synthetic finishing.