In April 1940, Germany invades Norway severing the country’s communications with the outside world. The town of Narvik, one hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, is left to resist on their own.
Twenty-two-year-old NELS TORKLE is angry that Norway’s pledge of neutrality has been ignored but he realizes neutral doesn’t have to mean passive. Using a radio he and his father hid from the Nazis, he gathers news from Allied broadcasts and starts an underground newspaper with the help of his fiancé, INEKE HOLTER.
But a Norwegian collaborator turns them in forcing the couple to flee. Ineke is shot before Nels’s eyes. Nels picks up one of her snow-covered mittens and swears to avenge her death.
Nels flees to the Shetland Islands. Norwegian sailors there recognize him as their Nordic skiing champion and contact the American Olympic Committee who has been hiding Olympic hopefuls from the Nazis. The committee conceals him in Vermont, where he can sit out the war.
Nels wants to return to Norway and fight the Germans, but doing so would put a bullseye on his back. Unable to get revenge, he loses hope, sinking into despair. Just as he is about to give up, he meets ALBERTO BISIO, a young Italian stonecutter who, along with other stonecutters, has fled Fascist oppression in Italy.
Nels’s and Alberto’s cross country skiing and rock climbing adventures in the beautiful Green Mountains renew Nels’s spirit, and he rededicates himself to Nordic racing. But, just as he begins to find hope, German agents find him.
Nels and Alberto elude them by volunteering for the new Tenth Mountain Division, a specialized infantry unit training in the remote mountains of Colorado, dedicated to combating Axis forces in the mountains of Europe.
Nels’s friendship with Alberto deepens as they face terrible adversaries — the terrain and weather. Nels finds strength and courage by carrying Ineke’s mitten next to his heart wherever he goes.
Unknown to Nels and his unit, the American Army is preparing to invade the mountains of Northern Italy using Alberto’s hometown of Lucca as a base. American intelligence agents approach Alberto in Colorado to learn more about his Italian friends, who are now partisans, directing bombing missions on Nazi installations. He vouches for their reliability.
As the division’s mountain training continues, they are nearly killed by a blizzard at ten thousand feet on Mount of the Holy Cross. Nels saves his squad.
In December 1944, the division is sent into the Apennine Mountains in Italy. The two friends now face the greatest challenge of all – to find an attack route up a two-thousand-foot cliff where the Germans are dug in.
Using their mountaineering skills, they lay out a route with climbing ropes and lead their unit up the cliff at night. The Germans flee from the mountains, giving the division time to rest and reflect on their losses.
The story has a dramatic ending.