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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Mountain class offered at the U

By Jessica Dunn

Gian Zini’s outlook on life and the mountains is summed up in his favorite quote by Mark Twain.

“A man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel tolerably insignificant by and by. The Alps and the glaciers together are able to take every bit of conceit out of a man and reduce his self-importance to zero if he will only remain within the influence of their sublime presence long enough to give it a fair and reasonable chance to do its work.”

Zini, who currently teaches Italian at the U, was born and raised in the Italian Alps, near the border between Italy and Austria. Zini started skiing when he was barely 3 years old and was later a ski racer on the Italian junior team. Needless to say, mountains have always been a main part of Zini’s life.

Zini’s lifelong compassion for mountains and his impressive resume of mountain experience influenced an idea he had for a class at the U.

“I feel a lot of peace when I’m in the mountains,” Zini said. “They require a lot of physical energy, but they give back. I want to give something back to the incredible experiences I’ve had in the mountains.”

He knocked on the door of Harvey Miller, the geography chair, with his idea for a mountain course. Miller was open to the idea and jumped right on it, Zini said.

“People spend so much time here and come to campus for the mountains,” Zini said. “It’s not just about looking at them. There’s so much to learn about them.”

After graduating from college in Italy University of Modnea 1981, Zini was drafted into the Italian Army’s mountain special forces unit where he served as an instructor. He trained future officers and other military personnel in all aspects of mountain sports, applying those skills to military operative training and fighting in a mountain environment. Rescue techniques, mountain meteorology, cartography and avalanche prevention were also included in his training.

When his military service ended, Zini made his first visit to the Canadian portion of the Rocky Mountains in 1979. Since then he has developed a deep knowledge of the entire Rocky Mountain region through his travels and studies.

His traveling eventually brought him to Utah. In 1994, he met his wife at Snowbird Ski Resort while waiting in the singles line for the Little Cloud Chair. Zini proposed two weeks later and is now the father of three children, whom he loves to take skiing.

Zini said he chose to live in Utah for the mountains and the lifestyle, which allows him to have more time with his family. He keeps his Fridays free so he can ski with his kids every weekend.

The course Zini helped establish is Geography 3700, Mountain Development and Recreation. Offered in Spring 2008, the course will focus on sustainable development of general mountain areas and in Utah specifically, and the impact of the recreation industry on ecosystems and culture. The course objectives include promoting an understanding and appreciation for the mountains and mountain cultures to inspire a lifelong commitment to the mountains.

The course will be graded based on two exams, a paper, class participation and a group project assignment. The project will focus on a case study related to one of Utah’s main ski or mountain areas and will apply knowledge acquired throughout the course.

Zini plans to bring in guest speakers to “diversify the rhythm of lectures” and to keep the course from being absolutely theoretical. Potential speakers will include managers from ski resorts and mountain sports, people in the international tourism and recreation industry and friends of Zini from Europe.

“I hope I can deliver some of my experience and knowledge, open a window on a segment of our culture that is large, and inspire a lifelong commitment to the mountains,” Zini said.

Geography 3700 is offered Spring 2008 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:25 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. Another mountain course, Mountain Environments and Culture, is scheduled for Fall 2008. It will be coordinated with Geography 3700. Both courses will be taught by Zini. For more information on Geography 3700, go to the course syllabus at

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