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.
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.
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 DISMANTLED
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.
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.
Liked the article. My father was in the 10th Mountain and trained at Camp Hale. He was wounded on Riva Ridge. In the 1980’s he went back to a reunion. Several of the men in his unit still lived in the area and were still active skiers. He got to visit again before his death. It wasn’t until we were all grown that he started talking about his adventures in the 10th Mountain.
Enjoyed your article. I have another anecdote, which is that the army also gave 10th Mountain Division equipment to all of the Boy Scout troops in the area, around 1956 or so, including mine in Springer, New Mexico. These were my first pair of skis and poles. We took them on some Winter survival trips up to Santa Fe Baldy, and up into the mountains between Miami,New Mexico and what is now Angel Fire, digging huts, and using some CS and UUBar Ranch line camps for much needed warmth. Maybe because I was shorter then, (I was 12-13years or so old), the snow seemed way deeper then. In my first trip to Taos Ski Valley in 1958 with the Taos Junior High Ski program, I first discovered that they may have been a bit long for my wiry little body, and they wouldn’t let me use them.