I stood in the back of one of the rooms of the new Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame listening to 10th Mountain Division veteran Sandy Treat. Sadly, he has since passed but, that day he was recounting some of his stories from his training days at Camp Hale and World War II. Treat, who was still quite sharp for someone who has been through a ton at his age (96 at the time), was in the middle of talking about specific war strategies when I noticed local ski legend Chris Anthony wander in. Anthony, famous for his appearances in 28 Warren Miller films, has become the go-to-guy regarding the 10th Mountain Division. Peeling myself away from Sandy’s chronicles I made my way with Chris Anthony into another area of the museum to sit down and chat. We spoke at length, leaving me in awe of the tenth’s impressive training, incredible bravery and just how much of a role they played in the development of the modern ski resort.
Intense Training Was “Just What They Would Do.”
Chris Anthony, The Westin Riverfront’s recently named “Resident Mountain Historian” will host The 10th Mountain Division Ski Trooper Experience this winter. There, over the course of a weekend, you can celebrate and explore the incredible history of Colorado’s legendary 10th Mountain Division Ski Troopers right alongside Anthony. His knowledge of the subject is fascinating and while sitting with him, I could barely finish my first question before he eagerly began:
One of the first and amazing stories I heard about the 10th Mountain Division long before I heard about what they did during Wartime in Italy was one of their weekend outings they did from Camp Hale to Aspen and then a party in the Hotel Jerome. The trek was no picnic. Not even to this day. They did it to test equipment but also just to do it. It is known as the “Trooper Traverse.” It helps to picture these crazy late teenagers, early twenty year olds living in this base camp high up in the Rockies, some with world class skills, doing just nutty stuff. They were characters that knew how to live and make things happen despite the risk. They were strong, vibrant, outgoing, confident men that did fun things during a turbulent time. But when it came down to getting serious their was not a stronger brotherhood.
It’s hard to imagine that the group of men whose timely victory in WWII at the Battle of Riva Ridge would have taken on this turbulent four day trek, carrying roughly 60 pounds each while skinning at elevations around 12,000 feet and camping in some of the harshest conditions imaginable, just because…but they did. The end result, an epic party at Aspen’s Hotel Jerome. Many of these guys were skiers, and skiers have to après, right?
Actually, if you know anything about The 10th or have heard their stories from the war, a trek like this isn’t as surprising as you think. “That’s just what they would do, says Anthony. They would train hard all week, then on the weekend do more of the same on their own.” Truth is, they enjoyed these weekend sessions and they were really just another part of their intense regimen that ultimately, more than, prepared them for battle and resulted in their camaraderie and heroism.
Addressing A Need For A Mountaineering Unit in the Army
The 10th Mountain Division was established in large part thanks to the extensive help of National Ski Patrol Founder Charles “Minnie” Dole. After stories of a small unit of Finnish ski troops holding out against a much larger Russian army during a winter battle in 1939 reached the states, Dole recognized the need for such a mountaineering unit in the U.S. Army. His passion for creating this division began and was enhanced by his connection to the ski community. This affiliation prompted Olympic medalists, collegiate skiers, accomplished mountaineers, and more, to sign up in droves. Thus the 10th Mountain Division was born.
Harsh Conditions Formed a Camaraderie that Helped Swing World War II
The training that they endured was unrivaled. Stationed high in the Colorado mountains at Camp Hale, the conditions were rough. Temperatures that would be considered beyond cold for the average human persisted, along with heavy snow and wind that they had to navigate on their long wooden skis while carrying roughly 90 pounds of gear. The physical strength and the mental fortitude it took to survive is something that many today could not even come close to understanding, but it is what defined The 10th as a unit and propelled them to victory in a crucial WWII battle.
Riva Ridge was a German outpost in Italy’s Apennine Mountains that The 10th were able to secure during daring nighttime raid in the middle of winter. This ultimately swayed the war in favor of the Allies. Not to be overlooked in all of this extreme training and its subsequent success was their connection as people. Hardened by their time together at Camp Hale and in the mountains of Italy, they became more than just a military unit. They became a brotherhood that propelled them beyond the war and into the modern ski community.
A Bond That Shaped the Modern Ski Community
Skiing, no matter what the situation, has this overwhelming ability to bring people together and the 10th’s fellowship is unrivaled. Chris Anthony echos this sentiment. “Oh yeah, and this is like another level of it. Yeah, like a whole other level. I mean these guys, what they lived through and the bond behind that, it kept them together. It’s a pretty amazing group of guys.” Equally as impressive as their commitment to each other are their contributions to the modern ski industry. In fact, chances are, you have skied on, at least one of the 62 ski resorts that they founded upon their return home. Resorts such as Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, Whiteface and more all fit the bill, but it goes beyond that.
Opening ski resorts was just the beginning. Anthony elaborates, “They were working ski schools, flipping chairs, opening bars at resorts…everything. There were a good couple thousand of them that moved right into the ski industry.” Remember, many of these men were skiers and mountaineers first so it was a natural progression for them to return from the war, gravitate towards ski towns and do what they absolutely loved. “They were all taken by the mountains,” emphasizes Anthony. A lot of them went to school but a lot of them were first generation skiers. What would you do if you came back, but go skiing? Many of them just wanted to do what was going to keep them in that lifestyle,” said Anthony. Their exploits were transcendent. They really were the catalyst behind an increased involvement in the modern ski industry. Anthony states, “There were one hundred thousand skis given by the Army to the public. This made it more accessible… all of a sudden there was a whole supply of equipment that could be retained for a minimal price.” This ultimately escalated skiing from a posh sport for the elite to a more approachable recreational activity for all of society.
Freedom From Tyranny Means Freedom to Ski
There is just so much to be said for the members of the 10th Mountain Division. Not only do they deserve a ton of credit for what they did in the war but also for how they molded the ski industry into what we know it as today. Both contributions go hand in hand. Without an Allied victory in WWII it is hard to imagine that we would even have the freedom to ski let alone in the capacity that it is today. Currently, with a multitude of resorts available to choose from across the country, we can enjoy this amazing sport with the freedom and fellowship that the veterans of The 10th would have appreciated themselves. Not too shabby for a group of young skiers turned troops just looking for a good après ski party at the Hotel Jerome.
Rich Stoner is the founder of the après-ski lifestyle clothing and media brand, All About Après. No stranger to the ski and après-ski scene, Rich has been a long time contributor for many publications on topics like skiing, gear, beer and food. However, his passion is on the slopes and enjoying good times with good people. You can find him perfecting his craft carving turns and drinking beers in the Green Mountains of Vermont. @allaboutapres