Skiing in America popularized by Tenth Mountain Division WWII veterans

Skiing transport

Early skiing using the rope tow at Snow Basin, Ogen, Utah.

In 1945, before the 10th Mountain Division returned from Europe, the public had access to more than 150,000 Army surplus skis, boots, and poles.

“The surplus equipment made it possible for the average person to go skiing,”according to David Little, Tenth Mountain historian and President of the 10th Mountain Division Living History Display Group. “That’s part of the reason for the skiing boom.”




  • February 1945 – Tenth Mountain defeated Germans on Riva Ridge

  • May 2, 1945 – Germans in Italy surrendered unconditionally, guarded by the Tenth Mountain.

  • May 8, 1945 – War ended in Europe. Tenth Mountain came home.

“By 1950, 10th Mountain skis were being sold off as surplus for $1 a pair. Boots were being sold from 50 cents to $1. Ski poles were 25 cents,” according to Little.

The Army skis were more than seven feet long and weighed 18 pounds a pair, including the steel cable bindings. Made of hickory, they were stiff as were the ankle-high square-toed leather ski boots.

In 1940, there were about 10,000 active skiers in the U.S. Today, seventy-six years later, there are more than 25 million.

“It was no longer a rich man’s sport,” Little said.

Making skiing easier

Trail groomer at Whiteface Mountain, New York.

Nationally, Tenth Mountain veterans founded and/or managed sixty-two American ski resorts including Sugarbush, Crystal Mountain, Whiteface Mountain, as well as Vail, Arapahoe Basin, Winter Park, Loveland and Aspen, according to Dana Mathios, Collections Manager at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame.

Veterans of the 10th also:

Staffed the ski patrols and ski schools of all major ski areas

Created innovative designs for ski areas and ski runs for public and private resorts

Developed the Graduated Length Method of skiing which was adopted by ski schools throughout Europe

Established and maintained the High Alpine Avalanche Research Station

Founded Outward Bound

Founded Nike Corporation

Founded the National Outdoor Leadership School

Served as executive director of the Sierra Club.

Colorado skiers found their way to the new Loveland ski area, opened in 1936 by J.C. Blickensderfer, who installed a portable tow rope in what is now Loveland Basin. Arapahoe Basin opened for its inaugural 1946-1947 season with just a single rope tow costing $1.25 a day. Skiers were transported to the base of the tow in an Army weapons carrier pulled by a four-wheel drive vehicle. The start of the tow was midway up the mountain.

During the first season at A-Basin, the skier day count was 1,200. Skier visits jumped to more than 13,000 the next season. Today, skier visits exceed 425,000 a season.

In the early 1960’s, the Breckenridge Ski Corporation developed Peak 8 on the Ten Mile Range and the town of Breckenridge began its rebirth.

skiing entrepreneuers

Seibert, Parker and Brown at Vail.

Pete Seibert, seriously wounded in battle and told he’d never ski again, founded Vail Mountain Resort with Bob Parker, Ben Duke, William Brown and Dick Wilson, all division veterans.

In 1957, a skiing friend and prospector, Earl Eaton, took him to Vail. That year the two purchased land at the base of the mountain, and two years later gained a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to build a resort.

Vail Corporation began soliciting investors with sufficient capital to meet the Forest Service requirements and was able to begin construction in 1961, opening in December 1962.

The resort got off to a slow start but by the end of the decade had established itself as a premier resort. Seibert remained involved with Vail until 1978 when he turned his entrepreneurial skills to Snow Basin in Utah.

Keystone came next in 1970 and then Copper Mountain in 1972.

Friedle Pfeiffer helped develop Aspen.

Johnny Litchfield was the assistant director of the Sun Valley Ski School in Idaho.

Dick Wilson, a 10th Mountain Division veteran, became the editor of National Skiing Magazine, forerunner of Skiing Magazine.

“We were the original ski bums,” Wilson said. “We were entrepreneurial types, too, but mostly we couldn’t get skiing out of our blood. We wanted to teach the country to ski. And we did.”


Camp Hale was one of 48 German POW camps in Colorado. The camp included mess halls, infirmaries, a ski shop, administrative offices, a movie theater, and stables for livestock. The white barracks for 15,000 soldiers, and the rest of the buildings, were dismantled by the Germans at the end of the war. The materials were sent to Camp Carson (now Fort Carson) for reuse in new structures. Later, the army reactivated Camp Hale on a limited basis to serve as a Mountain Winter Warfare School and Training Center for soldiers at Fort Carson.

Winter warfare training moved from Colorado to Fort Greely, Alaska in 1956.

At the end of June 1965, the Department of the Army officially closed Camp Hale and transferred the land to the White River National Forest.

In 1985, the 10th Mountain Division was reorganized at Fort Drum, New York.

skiing poster

Courtesy –

No account of the contributions to the Colorado ski industry would be complete without mention of Fritz Benedict. Architect Fritz Benedict studied under Frank Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin and competed nationally as a ski racer before he was drafted into the 10th Mountain Division for the last three years of World War II, serving in Italy.

When he returned to civilian life, he bought a ranch near Aspen and over several decades designed more than 200 buildings built in and around Aspen, as well as the master plans and other design work for several Colorado ski resorts, including Breckenridge, Vail, Snowmass, Winter Park, and Steamboat.

His best-known contribution was his idea for a hut system in the Colorado mountains, linked by ski trails. The Tenth Mountain Division Hut System opened with two huts in 1981. Today there are 34, connected by 350 miles of trails.

Keep a bend in your knees — 1960s ski songs.Songs about skiing

The trail to the Holy Cross

Cross of snow by Jackson

The original photograph by William Henry Jackson, 1873.


The aging priest stood alone on Horn Silver Mountain, near Shrine Pass, looking across the valley at the cross of snow.

The winter cover had dripped down the Mount of the Holy Cross into the Bowl of Tears, giving the cross a background of bare granite crags. It glistened like gold in the morning sun.

His prayer was that soon there should be a Catholic shrine on this spot from which to view the cross and that someday his Mount of the Holy Cross Pilgrimage would be there greatest annual religious even in the world.

But first, he had to get somebody to build a road up here and that meant dealing with Protestants like Randall and newspaper editors like Daggett, and writing more letters to the Bishop in Denver. Why won’t the bishop just build the road up here from Red Cliff?  With that thought, he stuffed his hat on his head and left his favorite spot.

Father Joseph P. Carrigan was remembered by one of his parishioners as “a crusty old Irishman who insisted upon taking up the collection himself at mass, glaring at you until you had put enough in the basket.  And he readily uncorked his views on politics and the chancery in Denver.”

In 1919, he formed the Mount of the Holy Cross Association along with O.W. Daggett, editor of Red Cliff’s newspaper, and Dr. O.W. Randall, the area’s dentist from Eagle. Together they would attempt to build the road that would bring pilgrims to Shrine Pass and beyond.

Service before the cross

1912 – Service before the cross led by Episcopalian priests.

There was no direct route from Denver to Red Cliff. They proposed that a major highway be built that would come from Denver over Shrine Pass, through Red Cliff, and climb to the top of the Mount of the Holy Cross and then on to Glenwood Springs.  They named it “The Holy Cross Trail.”

The old Irishman negotiated with the Forest Reserve of Denver concerning title to the shrine site and informed the bishop in Denver that “the government might build an open air pavilion.”

By the time he joined with Daggett and Randall, he had written Bishop J. Henry Tihen that the first pilgrimage was imminent adding, “There is not the slightest danger, to my mind, of any Protestant organization coming in with a pilgrimage, before or after us.”

Carrigan continued to lobby Tihen to no avail.  “The erection of a permanent shrine is a matter what will be taken up after the road has been secured,” the bishop wrote.

The Forest Service declined to build the road unless the association could provide the funds.

Daggett was assertive as well, writing editorials about obscure legends surrounding the discovery of the cross by Spanish explorers.  He tried to prove that Evangeline, tragic heroine in Longfellow’s epic point “Evangeline,” had in fact visited the Eagle River Valley.

He expanded the idea of the road from Denver to Red Cliff into “a direct transcontinental ocean-to-ocean route.”

Ten years later, a road to Camp Tigiwon was completed by the Forest Service, funded by contributions from Randall and The Denver Post. That summer, more than 600 people made the pilgrimage.

ski nespaperThe Denver Post pilgrimages continued until 1938, when the famous mountain was included in the Camp Hale Military Reservation and the trail to the Holy Cross was declared “off limits” to the public.

In August, as melting snow trickled down the face of the cross into the Bowl of Tears, J.P Carrigan died.

One year later the route over Vail Pass was dedicated, not as Carrigan, Daggett or Randall Pass, but in honor of Charles D. Vail, the state highway engineer.

In 1940, Daggett sold his newspaper to a man from Nebraska but it ceased publishing a year later. In the same year, William Henry Jackson died at the age of 99. It was Jackson’s original photograph that revealed that the legendary cross of snow on the side of a mountain in Colorado, actually existed.

In 1942, Camp Hale opened as the home of the Tenth Mountain Division and Daggett passed away.

Whatever Daggett’s final thoughts may have been, as he walked around Red Cliff with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his suspended overalls, the dream of the association did not die.

Every year since 1976, Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Vail has lead the only organized pilgrimage to the Cross of Snow.

Next pilgrimage

Vail Daily – Holy Cross or Bust

Manifested on the mountain

May 17 Norway’s National Day

Children are the focal point of Constitution Day on May 17 each year, founded to celebrate the creation of the Constitution of Norway.

May 17 Norway's National DayIn preparation, parents sew traditional folk costumes called bunad — pronounced boo-ned. Each large fjord or valley has a distinctive style and the design and colors vary according to locality.

Ineke’s is an elaborately embroidered full-length skirt, a long-sleeve white blouse, a matching embroidered jacket and new shoes adorned with silver buckles. The pewter collar brooch and pewter belt buckle were adornments on the bunad her mother wore as a child.

Ineke’s great grandmother sewed the embroidered waist purse by hand. The floral embroidery on the her new folk costume matches the traditional family pattern on the purse.

All over Norway, children’s parades are formed by the elementary school teachers. Hundreds of Norwegian flags flutter in the brisk ocean breezes. Marching bands lead the procession of children through the community, often making stops at homes of senior citizens or historical points of interest. As the parade passes, bystanders join in behind the children, carrying more flags, and follow the parade back to the school.

Back at the school, there are games for the children, and often lots of ice cream, sweets and pølse, Norwegian sausages on buns covered with mustard.

May 17 Norway's National DayNels and Ineke walked hand in hand every year.

Excerpt from novel: Nazi’s try to prevent the parade

“Wearing their best bunad, and with Norwegian flags waiving brightly in the midday sun, the children turn bravely from a side street onto Kongens Gate, the main street through Narvik.  Julia, Sigrid and all the other teachers are at the head of the parade, not at the rear, as is the custom.  The teachers have resisted everything the Nazis try to impose on the schools and they intend to resist today as well.

“Armed German troops have formed a line blocking the parade route. Marching bands stir the crowds as the soldiers wait for the marchers.  Approaching the German line, Julia takes Sigrid’s hand and squeezes it tightly. She raises their clenched hands in defiance and pushes the soldiers out of their way without stopping.

“Hault!” the German commander yelled holding up his pistol. Again, “Hault.” No one stopped. The commander tried again in Norwegian, “Slutte. Slutte.”

“Nels put Ineke behind him to protect her. I will kill you if you touch her.

“Approaching the German line, Nels’s mother looked back at the nervous children, and their parents along the street, as if to say don’t worry. She took Sigrid’s hand and raised their clenched fists in defiance, pushing their way past the soldiers without stopping. The Germans did nothing.

“Nels’s stomach fluttered with delight. He was proud to be a Norwegian and, for a moment, felt fearless in the presence of the troops.

“The teachers lead the defiant procession through town and back to school, where the residents gathered around them cheering and shouting, “Skol! Skol!”

Add a trip to Narvik to your Bucket List

Q: If you live in an igloo made of snow, what’s the worst thing about global warming?

A: No privacy!

Traditional Norwegian foods

goat cheese

Norwegian geitost

Geitost, Norwegian for goat cheese

Exploring everything Norwegian is my new passion since researching Ineke’s Mitten. My main character, Nels Torkle, loved geitost, a mild, sweet golden-brown cheese, made with whey heated together with cow’s and goat’s milk.  The heat turns the milk sugar into caramel, which gives the cheese its characteristic taste and brown color.

Geitost, pronounced yay-toast, goes well with crackers, butter, preserves, fresh fruit and crunchy veggies. You can buy it at many American supermarkets, specialty cheese counters or online. In Norway, it is served as wafer-thin slices shaved with a cheese plane or thin knife.

In the book, Nels tells Ineke how much he loves geitost, and her, while at his family’s Sunday koldtbord, or smorgasbord in Swedish. In his first letter to his parents from his secret location in Vermont, he shares his disappointment in the American options.

“The little store near where I live is called Lemrey’s Market. They sell goat cheese, but it is bland, nothing like  my favorite geitost. Breakfast here comes with what they call ‘hash browns.’ They don’t compare to our lefse potato pancakes. When I come home I will climb into the hills and pick alpine flowers from the meadows and bring you fresh berries for your Sunday koldtbord.”

Humorous Norwegian commercial for Geitost

Open-faced sandwiches

Photo by Monica Friedrich at

Photo by Monica Friedrich at

Koldtbord translates as “cold table.” It is a simple, yet colorful, variety of open-faced sandwiches. Here are a few ideas:

Ideas for open-faced sandwiches





Lefse potato flatbread

The links below take you to recipes for lefse but last week I discovered I could buy in in my local supermarket, or from Mrs. Olson’s online. Yum.


Martha Stewart video

Easy recipe for lefse 

Another recipe

Finally a snow joke

Q: Where does a snowman keep his money?

A: In a snow bank.

Inspired by Bill Koch’s 1976 Olympic victory

Bill Koch

Bill Koch, silver medalist, 1976 Olympics

In Ineke’s Mitten, the main character, Nels Torkle, was Norway’s next hope to win an Olympic medal in Nordic skiing. I got the idea to make him a skier looking back at Bill Koch’s stunning silver medal win at the 1976 winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

This was the event that stirred my writer’s memory the most. I cheered him on in front of my television and felt, for the first time, the excitement, and pride, Norwegians feel for their Nordic racers.

A native of Brattleboro, Vermont, Koch was the first, and remains, the only American to win an Olympic medal in Nordic skiing.

Although he lost the thirty-kilometer race by twenty-eight  seconds to Sergei Saveliev of the USSR, this twenty-one-year-old stunned the world of Nordic skiing, challenging the traditional domination of Scandinavian and Soviet athletes.

I started cross country skiing in 1974 in Colorado. My wife grew up in Tucson, Arizona and was not drawn to downhill skiing, no matter how patient I was.  But, she loved cross country skiing.

I was a runner at the time and, inspired by Koch’s effort,  decided to start racing cross country in local races sponsored by Coors.

I have a strong attachment to Vermont. My father lived in Northfield and we visited his farm every year. So my protagonist from Norway had to be an Olympic hopeful in cross country skiing. The U.S. Olympic Committee would have to hide him in Northfield where he would teach Nordic skiing to the cadets at Norwich University, the oldest military college in the United States.

Koch went on to win the bronze medal in the 30K event at the 1982 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo, Norway, becoming the first non-European ever to medal in cross-country skiing at the World Championships.


Koch pioneered the skating style. Photo by Peter Ashley.

He won by switching from the classic kick-and-stride style to the more propulsive power of “skating.” For more than a hundred years cross-country competitors universally raced with the ancient diagonal stride, alternately kicking and gliding.

Koch carried the American flag at the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.