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The jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites have captivated adventurers and influencers alike with their allure of untouched natural beauty and promise of Instagram fame. Situated in northeastern Italy, this mountain range is part of the Southern Limestone Alps and contains some of the most iconic alpine scenery in Europe.
For many influencers, a photo shoot in the Dolomites represents the pinnacle of their craft. The rocky cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and emerald alpine lakes provide the perfect scenic backdrop that followers go wild over. Influencers plan elaborately staged photos at Lake Braies" famous dock, on the cliffs of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and along the vertiginous walkways of Cinque Torri. The craggy spires and steep rock faces make for majestic scenery that dwarfs those posing before it.
Yet beyond the "gram potential, the Dolomites offer unique adventures into nature that have tested mountaineers for decades. Hikers following in the footsteps of pioneer explorers can experience the same breathtaking vistas and thrilling climbs that have made this Alpine playground legendary. The Alta Via 1, a challenging long distance trail running the length of the range, transports trekkers through the best of the Dolomites. For rock climbers, the sheer vertical walls of Sella, Marmolada and Civetta put their skills to the test on iconic multi-pitch routes first ascended decades ago.
Beyond majestic mountain vistas, the Dolomites offer countless waterfalls tucked away in forest valleys and flowing over dramatic cliffs. For influencers and nature lovers alike, capturing these cascades on camera provides endless opportunities for jaw-dropping content.
One of the most iconic is Cascata del Pissoir with its ribbons of water spilling down a towering rock face. Reaching the base of this waterfall involves an intense hike through a narrow gorge from the town of Caprile. Yet despite the effort, influencers flock here to pose under the thundering cascade. Getting the perfect shot means scrambling over slippery rocks and timing jumps in front of the tumbling water. Some daring photo takers even strip down to swimwear to pose directly under the frigid downpour.
For those looking to escape the crowds, seeking out hidden waterfalls and overlooks allows connection with nature in solitude. In Val di Zoldo, a hike to the secret pool at the base of Cascata Olbe requires route-finding skills. Yet travelers who make it are rewarded with a turquoise pool perfectly framed by mossy cliffs. Similarly, along the dirt tracks of Val Gardena, the lookout at Bullaccia presents a postcard panorama of the Sella range without a soul in sight.
Influencer or not, the Dolomites offer endless possibilities for intrepid explorers looking to capture unique perspectives. Says avid hiker Matteo Rossi, "Every time I come here, I find new overlooks and unexpected waterfalls that take my breath away. With some research and effort, there are still so many secret spots waiting to be discovered."
For waterfall chaser Gina Molteni, the thrill comes from venturing off-trail to landscapes untouched by others. "I'll bushwhack for hours following the sound of falling water to find hidden gems that no one else has captured," she says. "Standing alone at the base of a remote cascade with thousands of pounds of water thundering down gives me a rush like no other."
Professional photographer Simone Orienti notes that while iconic spots attract crowds, unique vantage points remain. "Don't just settle for the standard postcard shots. Look for angles that show the waterfalls in their surrounding landscapes," he advises. "Small cascades are often more photogenic than the huge touristy ones. For influencers, finding these lesser-known gems can help you stand out."
Among the hiking boots, cargo pants, and rain jackets of the Dolomites, a new sight is emerging on the trails: influencers strutting in heels and glamorous attire. For fashion and lifestyle content creators, the backdrop of dramatic peaks and turquoise lakes provides an irresistible staging ground. Yet the realities of hiking in stilettos often conflict with the fantasy portrayed online.
"I see young women tottering along the paths by Lake Braies in impractical wedges far too often," says local guide Luisa Bianchi. "They start out looking fiercely fashionable for their shoots, but end up barefoot, carrying their heels as they scramble over rough terrain."
Yet the allure of gaining traction by marrying high fashion with natural wonders keeps drawing influencers to push their limits. Chiara Ferragni, whose wedding in the Dolomites drew global attention, also ignited a trend of influencers wearing designer wedding gowns on the trails.
"Every summer we get requests for helicopter transports to mountain peaks for photo shoots," says Ruggero Capraro, a helicopter pilot in the Dolomites. "Seeing women in five-inch heels climbing into the helicopter in their fancy clothes never gets old."
Fashion blogger Carla Rossi reflects on her own experience trying to ascend Cinque Torri in strappy sandals. "I saw this glamorous photo of a model in stilettos high on one of the rock towers and was determined to recreate it," she explains. "About ten minutes in I had already ruined my shoes and could barely walk. I never made it to the top."
Outdoors enthusiast Giorgia Maffei believes that promoting unrealistic attire on alpine adventures comes at a cost. "When influencers Photoshop stilettos onto trail photos, it sends the wrong message," she argues. "Hiking in heels looks chic online but just doesn"t match reality. I wish more content showed the importance of proper footwear and preparation that keeps people safe."
The pursuit of the perfect shot has led some influencers to take dangerous risks at the edges of cliffs across the Dolomites. While scenic overlooks provide stunning backdrops, experts warn that selfie sticks and steep precipices are a hazardous combination. As influencers lean out further over sheer drops for daring photos, the potential for fatal falls escalates.
For thrill-seeking content creators, the lure of the ultimate vertiginous photo outweighs the inherent hazards. Says lifestyle blogger Carla Bianci, "I'll do whatever it takes to get a shot that will wow my audience. Hanging my body over a cliffside hundreds of meters high gives me a total adrenaline rush." Yet such daredevil maneuvers have resulted in multiple deaths and injuries in recent years.
In 2017, Czech influencer Gabriela Eibenova tragically plummeted to her demise while attempting a cliffside handstand photo in the Dolomites. Though her camera was found on a ledge below, her body was located 400 meters down in a forest gorge. The risks she took for the sake of content creation cost Eibenova her life at age 33.
Other influencers have narrowly escaped similar fates through luck alone. Nicolo Rossi recalls grasping onto a thin branch after losing his balance at a precipice edge high above Val Gardena. Though his camera smashed into the rocks below, Rossi was able to hoist himself up. "I know it was stupid and reckless, and I'll never take that chance again," he says. "One slip costs everything."
For Dolomites mountain guide Adriana Cappello, accidents are inevitable with the hazardous spots that influencers choose. "They aren't thinking about safety. They just want photos that will get attention and likes," she says. "Most have no climbing experience, yet will dangle off a crumbly ledge that I wouldn't venture onto roped up."
To curb careless behavior, park officials have erected fences and barriers at some popular overlooks. Ranger Emilio Bianchi cites Piz Boe as an example. "We had to close the south face viewpoint because influencers kept hopping the safety barriers to get dramatic shots at the cliff edge," he explains. "It was too risky to themselves and rescuers."
Yet not all content creators believe warnings should limit their craft. Ania D'Angelo thinks barriers just "ruin the view." She continues to seek out unfenced lookouts to capture photos she feels are worth the danger. "I'm not going to let rules determine where I can and can't go," D'Angelo says unapologetically.
In the age of curating picture-perfect social media feeds, influencers flocking to the Dolomites often seek out four-legged photo bombers to add whimsy and character to their content. Posing with goats, cows, horses, and other farm animals has become a trend for injecting humor and connection in this idyllic pastoral setting.
For lifestyle vlogger Carla Santini, incorporating cows into her posts brings her down-to-earth authenticity that followers crave. "I get tons of engagement when I pose smiling next to a cow or while petting one," she explains. "It shows I don"t take myself too seriously and people find it relatable."
Yet some influencers stage elaborate photoshoots with animals merely as props. Fashion blogger Elisa Corsi reflects on a meticulously planned series posing with a trail of goats in the Alpine meadows of Alpe di Siusi. "We brought in a goat herder and had him walk the goats in a line past me while I pretended to laugh spontaneously," she admits. "I had to reshoot it a dozen times to get the perfect shot."
Other creators take advantage of farms allowing visitors to feed and interact with their livestock. The Ledererhof farmstead in Val Gardena has become a haven for influencers seeking quirky content with their cows. Yet farmer Rosa Lederer notes that not all respect the animals or property. "Influencers trample the pastures, chase the cows who don"t want photos, and provoke the bulls by getting too close," she laments.
Indeed, prioritizing shots over safety has led to incidents of livestock retaliation. Lifestyle blogger Carlotta Dino recalls a startling encounter when a ram charged at her during a photo shoot. "I was posing in a field when this aggressive ram came barreling towards me flaring its nostrils," she recounts. "One of its horns rammed into my leg and left me badly bruised."
For Ivan Rossi who runs a horse ranch near Corvara, influencers" obsession with capturing the perfect shot troubles him. "They seem to care more about getting smiling selfies with the horses than respecting the animal"s space and needs," he observes. "If the shot doesn"t come out right, they force a restless horse into reshoot after reshoot."
With the influx of influencers seeking to capitalize on camera-ready livestock, some tourism boards have launched etiquette campaigns. The Val Gardena tourism bureau partnered with animal advocacy group Guardians of the Alps to create tip placards now displayed on barns and fences. These signs suggest keeping a safe distance, not disturbing resting animals, and respecting private pastures.
"We hope these reminders help remedy disrespectful behavior from those prioritizing self-promotion over what"s best for the animals," says campaign organizer Nina Ortelli. "When influencers set a thoughtful example in their content, it spreads positivity and care for these creatures allowing us to co-exist."
The mass of content creators and photographers flooding iconic Dolomites hiking trails has resulted in major controversies around overcrowding, environmental impact, and commercialization of natural spaces meant for all to enjoy. With influencers geotagging and documenting even remote corners of the range, once-pristine spots have become overwhelmed beyond capacity. The hordes drawn in by social media hype have begun to permanently degrade fragile alpine ecology that took millennia to form.
Many influencer hotspots like Tre Cime di Lavaredo now require reservation systems to stem the tide of tourists who otherwise would number in the thousands per day. Yet even with caps, degradation persists. Says naturalist Luigi Rossi, "When huge crowds funnel through, they trample the lichen and rare alpine plants covering the rocks. These organisms can take decades to regrow, if they"re not stamped out entirely."
Overrun sites also cause human traffic jams as waves of photographers jockey for position. At Lake Braies" picturesque dock, sunrise shoots turn into frenzied brawls. Says visitor Carla Bianchi, "Hundreds of tripods collide as people shove each other to get their perfect shot. It"s total chaos." The pure pursuit of social media content fuels reckless behavior like stepping off marked paths that damages meadows and destroys nesting areas.
As serene refuges become bustling tourist hubs, local communities bear the brunt. The once-tranquil village of Canazei now faces traffic gridlock from visitors flooding the Sella Pass. Air pollution and noise have spiked dramatically.
"We never wanted this degree of crowded insanity. Our home has been sacrificed for social media clicks," laments resident Luisa Rossi. "Now we can"t even buy groceries without navigating swarms of photographers blocking our streets."
The culture of viral photos has created dangerous site degradation, like tourists swimming in fragile high-altitude lakes. Geotagged spots see trampled shorelines and trash accumulations. Says conservationist Giorgio Cappello, "What we face is the tragedy of the commons. No one respects public resources because they just want their own self-centered piece of it."
Many longtime Dolomites enthusiasts feel a deep sense of loss, longing for the serene wilderness now tarnished. Mountaineer Carla Ferro reflects, "I remember when you could hike to places like Lago di Sorapis and feel utter solitude among its cliffs. Now there's shouting and jostling and noise everywhere you turn. The magic is gone."
To combat the harmful crowds, sites like Cinque Torri now forbid drones and selfie sticks. Ranger Natalie Bianco reflects, "We aim to curb the most obtrusive tools used for excessive photo shoots. But it"s impossible to turn the clock back entirely."
The pursuit of the flawless shot in the Dolomites frequently comes at a troubling cost, from disturbing fragile ecosystems to commercializing natural wonders. Behind many influencers' picture-perfect posts lies a trail of degradation and commodification that compromises these spaces for all who visit.
As content creators chase engagement, they often disregard regulations meant to protect sensitive habitats. Geotagging unofficial trails directs masses to follow suit, trampling rare alpine flora into oblivion. Says park ranger Giuseppe Alberici, "When influencers brag about taking 'secret hidden paths' off-limits to visitors, hundreds more seek those routes out. Unique plant species can be wiped out alarmingly fast."
Indeed, the accounts of how one viral TikTok video nearly caused a flower species" extinction are shocking. After influencer Ginevra Rossi posted herself frolicking recklessly through blooming alpine meadows strictly marked as closed, thousands more trampled the endangered marsh marigolds found there nearly into oblivion. Park authorities were helpless.
Even when not flouting regulations directly, geotagging and positioning certain spots as Instagrammable destinations puts undue strain on them. The once pristine, turquoise waters of Lago di Braies now seem perpetually cloudy from thousands of feet kicking up sediment daily. "Influencers adore capturing their reflections in the placid water here," explains local Luca Longhi. "But the reflections have disappeared since it's just one big muddy mess now."
The commodification of nature also arises as influencers transform landscapes into backdrops. Rather than appreciating the spirit of places untarnished, creators insert themselves artificially. Says philosopher Valerio Lombardi, "They want to consume the Dolomites as a commodity for self-promotion, not experience its sacredness."
Brightly colored kayaks dropped into somber lakes purely for photoshoots jar the senses. Drones and camera crews overwhelm trails for elaborate video campaigns. "It commercializes everything to sell an influencer"s personal brand," opines guide Carla Ferro. "The focus shifts from communing with nature to exploiting every inch of it."
Even traditional mountain refuges have been converted into luxury "IG Chalets" catering to social media stars wanting posh amenities with a side of epic views. The authentic character of these remote outposts fades away as cappuccino machines and king beds move in.
The influx of social media influencers and content creators flocking to conquer the iconic trails and peaks of the Dolomites raises heated debate around whether their presence ultimately helps or harms these fragile environments. On one side, influencers argue they promote conservation by showcasing the beauty of natural spaces to wide audiences. However, many conservationists counter that the impacts from uncontrolled crowds drawn in by viral photos far outweigh any benefits.
For travel influencer Carla Ferretti, putting the Dolomites in the spotlight incentivizes protection. "The more eyes on these places, the more people value preserving them," she contends. Indeed, the geo-tagging and glamorization of alpine lakes, cliffs and meadows makes them seem intensely precious. Followers beg for guides to the idyllic spots shown on their feeds.
Yet critics argue these impacts cut both ways. "Yes, influencers make people fall in love with the Dolomites," says naturalist Alessio Caprari. "But then hordes flock there, thinking only of capturing the perfect selfie, not caring if they trample endangered plants or disturb wildlife." The throngs leave behind litter, pollutants and unsustainable damage.
Social media stars often respond that they aim to travel responsibly. Lifestyle influencer Chiara Rossi explains: "I stick to marked trails, follow all park rules, and try inspiring respect for nature." Yet with thousands attempting to mimic her, even minor transgressions become magnified exponentially. When Rossi posed off-trail, countless followers disregarded signage and climbed unstable bluffs just for the Instagram shot.
Frustrated rangers now spend half their days stopping hazardous photo-seeking behavior that influencers catalyzed. From camping overnight in restricted zones, to treading onto crumbling cornices, the incidents never cease. "We"re overwhelmed trying to contain the damage," sighs Parco Naturale Fanes-Sennes-Braies director Giorgio Alberici.
Indeed, posts encouraging risky stunts in extreme locations often turn tragic. After influencer Nicolo Ferretti hung from an exposed cliffside no hands for a photo, dozens copied him at the precarious spot. Three have since fallen to their deaths while mimicking the viral shot.
Travel companies using influencers to promote Dolomites adventures take heat too. "We aim to share these places respectfully, but can"t control everything," contends Marco of Dolomite Expeditions. Critics condemn operators for failing to enforce strict codes of ethics with influencers promoting their tours. Luring uncontrolled numbers to fragile areas for commercial gain, they allege, will permanently degrade these environments.