Black Rapids

Rope tow at Black Rapids ski area, Alaska

The story of Ineke’s Mitten probably took root in me on a bleak, frigid, winter afternoon at the Army’s Black Rapids ski area in Alaska. It was 1959. As I stood in line waiting my turn to grab the frightening, whining rope tow, I felt I had grown up beyond my eleven years. I was holding my own skiing with the soldiers. I have always remembered that day whenever I think about skiing. It was the beginning.

My father was stationed at nearby Fort Greely, Alaska, home of the Army’s Cold Weather and Mountain School. The training center was originally established in 1942 at Camp Hale, Colorado, home of the new Tenth Mountain Division.  Winter warfare training moved from Colorado to Alaska in 1956.  We arrived in 1958 and stayed until 1960.

During my research, I discovered our next door neighbor at Fort Greely was Colonel Dured Townsend, commanding officer of the 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment, Tenth Mountain Division. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for heroism in action against the Germans in Italy in April 1945.  He never shared his exploits with us.

So when I took over Vail Magazine in 1988, I met many veterans of the division, one of whom founded Vail in the early 1960s. I began to research the full story of these mountain fighters,  aided by the gift of a new book — Soldiers On Skis: A Pictorial Memoir Of The 10th Mountain Division by Flint Whitlock and Bob Bishop. I found a photograph of Townsend in the book.

The arctic, skiing and winter warfare are the backdrop for this story of love and friendship.

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