Ario Daniel Z’Hoo, an Italian Mountain Guide, describes his latest quest as “a prayer on skis”. Although not particularly religious, he speaks of a strong spirituality derived from his love and respect for nature. A native of the Italian Alps, Ario has adopted the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in North Eastern Alaska as his cause. For the second time he has completed a traverse through the refuge. This time he circumnavigated the coastal plain known as the “1002 area” the most controversial area in the refuge. Since 1980 political battles have been fought preventing drilling and oil exploration in what is considered a sacred place by the local Native American tribe, the Neet’ssi Gwitch’in. The 1002, or coastal plain, is the calving ground of the Porcupine caribou herd which, for nearly 20000 years the Gwitch’in have depended on for their sustenance.
On March 8, 2017, the temperature hovering around -25F, Ario skied first to the north out onto the Arctic Ocean then due west towards the Canning River. Met by blizzards and biting cold he pushed ahead onto tussock covered tundra as the strong winds had blown most of the snow from the grassy plains. Ario arrived at the midway point sapped of energy, with swollen feet, face and hands. Never before had he encountered such intense conditions. He describes the experience as “living inside a freezer of constant beauty.” Having regained his strength, he ventured east towards the far border near Canada. He followed the Jago River towards the coast and was fortunate as the skiing conditions improved with fresh snow.
On April 1st, back in the comfort of the village of Kaktovik, Ario ate voraciously, and then went to the local school to speak to the young people about why he was “hugging” the refuge on skis.
The Arctic Refuge Wilderness bill arrives in congress and the senate soon. Ario hopes his efforts may lend a hand to the gain in popularity for the “Sacred Place Where Life Begins” – the Gwitch’in designation for the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. Local Guide and Inuit native Robert Thompson in Katovik, Alaska, spoke of Ario this way; “If some people become aware of the refuge because of Ario’s efforts, well that’s what’s happened so far. There’s a lot of people putting an effort into it and I know if nobody did anything I’d be living in an oilfield.”