The History of the Legendary 10th Mountain Division, The Men Who Started USA’s Ski Industry

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10th Mountain Division training in California.
10th Mountain Division training in California.

I bet you didn’t know that at least 62 ski areas in the USA were started by 10th Mountain Division veterans.  Even Vail and Aspen were started by 10th Mountain Division vets.

“After the war, ex-soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division fired-up America’s modern ski industry. They published ski magazines, opened ski schools, and established ski areas, including Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, Whiteface Mountain and others. At least 62 ski resorts have been founded, managed, or employed head ski instructors that were 10th Mountain Division veterans.” –

10th Mountain Division in action in WWII
10th Mountain Division in action in WWII

The 10th Mountain Division.  That name is legendary in the ski & snowboard industry, but not many of us know much about these guys.   I’ve looked into this group and have been blown away by what they did in war and what they did for skiing in the USA.  In light of recognizing Veterans Day today, I’d like to share some basic information about the legendary 10th Mountain Division and what they did for us in war and in peace.

The 10th Mountain Division trained in various places from 1943-1944 including their base at Camp Hale (9,200 ft near Leadville) in Colorado and at Cooper ski area.   Mountaineering experts Jim & Lou Whittaker (first American to summit Everest & founder of Rainier Mountaineering Inc., respectively) were hired to train these men in Camp Hale and on Mount Rainier, WA.  The 10th trained hard to live, sleep, climb, ski, and fight on snow in the harshest conditions.  During maneuvers, the 10th would lay down their skis on the snow, throw their double sleeping bags on top of that and call it good for the night.  This training created some of the strongest soldiers America had and they were called on to prove it.

10th Mountain Division training at Mt. Rainier, WA
10th Mountain Division training at Mt. Rainier, WA

In late 1944 the 10th was shipped to Italy, fought courageously against the Nazis in many battles, and saw 114 days of combat.

After World War II many of the 10th Mountain Division warriors came home to the USA and continued skiing.  Much of the US ski industry was started by 10th Mountain Division veterans.  It’s valid to say that the ski industry in the USA would never have become so widespread without these warriors.


The 10th Mountain Division still fights on today.  The 10th has been involved in both the Afghanistan & Iraq wars since 2001 and they’re still out there.

Every time I see that 10th Mountain Division sign on highway 89 in Lake Tahoe, I think of these guys and what they did for our country and for skiing.  Thank you to the 10th and all of America’s warriors.

10th Mountain Division training at Camp Hale, CO
10th Mountain Division training at Camp Hale, CO

The 10th Mountain Division in WWII:

– Arrived in Italy on January 6th, 1945 & immediately entered combat

– Fought in the roughest terrain of Italy during WWII

– Saw combat in  Cutigliano, Battle of Monte Castello, Monte Della Torraccia-Mount Belvedere,  Canolle,  Mongiorgio, Torbole and Nago.

– 992 killed in action

– 4,154 wounded in action

– 114 days of combat

– 1  Medal of Honor (John D. Magrath)

Modern 10th Mountain Division troops.
Modern 10th Mountain Division troops.

– 3 Distinguished Service Crosses

– 1 Distinguished Service Meda

– 449 Silver Star Medals

– 7 Legion of Merit Medals

– 15 Soldier’s Medals

– 7,729 Bronze Star

– The division was awarded two campaign streamers

(movie trailer of the history of the 10th mountain division called “fire on the mountain”)

 The goal was clear: defeat the Nazis who were entrenched high in the snowy mountains of Italy. Drawing together an elite group of champion skiers, mountain climbers and European mountaineers, the U.S. Army created the 10th Mountain Division, America’s only mountain and winter warfare fighting unit. From the intensive training atop the Colorado Rockies to the spectacular night climb of Italy’s Riva Ridge – where the 10th scored their biggest victory against Hitler’s troops – Fire on the Mountain tells the thrilling story of these rugged, courageous men in all their glory. – Fire on the Mountain Movie


by wikipedia

The 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) is a light infantry division in the United States Army based at Fort Drum, New York. The division is a subordinate unit of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Originally constituted as a unique mountain warfare unit, the division was the only unit of its size in the U.S. Army to specialize in fighting in mountainous and arctic conditions, thus earning the division the “MOUNTAIN” tab. Today, the division retains its “mountain” designation for historical purposes and is organized as a light infantry division.

10th Mountain Division
10th Mountain Division

Originally activated as the 10th Light Division (Alpine) in 1943, the division was redesignated the 10th Mountain Division in 1944 and fought in the mountains of Italy in some of the roughest terrain in the country. Following the war the division was deactivated, only to be reactivated and redesignated as the 10th Infantry Division in 1948. The division first acted as a training division and in 1954 was converted to a full combat division and sent to Germany before being deactivated again in 1958.

10th Mountain Division training
10th Mountain Division training

Reactivated again in 1985, the division was designated the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), to historically tie it to the World War II division and to also better describe its modern disposition. Since its reactivation the division and/or elements of the division have deployed numerous times since. The division has participated in Operation Desert Storm(Saudi Arabia), Hurricane Andrew disaster relief (Homestead, Florida), Operation Restore Hope and Operation Continue Hope (Somalia), Operation Uphold Democracy (Haiti), Operation Joint Forge (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Operation Joint Guardian (Kosovo), and several deployments as part of the Multinational Force and Observers (Sinai Peninsula). Since 2001, the division and its four combat brigades have seen over 20 deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan in support ofOperation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, respectively.

10th Mountain Division
10th Mountain Division

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43 thoughts on “The History of the Legendary 10th Mountain Division, The Men Who Started USA’s Ski Industry

  1. The 10th Mountain Division Light Infantry has two Medal of Honor recipients. You left that out of your list on the Modern 10th list.

  2. In November 1939, during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland, Russian efforts were frustrated following the destruction of two armored divisions by Finnish soldiers on skis.[4] The conflict caught global attention as the outnumbered and outgunned Finnish soldiers were able to use the difficult local terrain to their advantage,[5] severely hampering the Soviet attacks and embarrassing their military.[6] Upon seeing the effectiveness of these troops, Charles Minot Dole, the president of the National Ski Patrol, began to lobby the War Department of the need for a similar unit of troops in the United States Army, trained for fighting in winter and mountain warfare. (Wikipedia)

  3. My dad, Ronold Farr, was at Camp Hale. He went to the mountains in Italy to fight. He watched in horror as his General was bombed to pieces in a hut they were in. He loved that man better than a father. These men were true brothers. They had to be in order to survive this type of impossible combat. Germ warfare wasn’t allowed, yet their water was poisoned with Hepatitis to take quite a few of these fine men down…my dad caught it and was shipped to recover in a hospital. He didn’t die. He came home and never really recovered from the PTSD of seeing his dear friends killed. He did manage to build a ski slope in the area of Moose Pond, Bridgeton, ME with a man who footed the cost. That slope was there for decades. Cancer took him in his late 50’s, two years after my first son was born. He is gone, but he is not forgotten, nor are his wonderful comrades in arms and on skis!

  4. My great uncle, Dave Curtis, was a squad leader in Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 86th Mountain Regiment, 10th mountain Division during WWII. He trained at Camp Hale and fought in Italy.

    He won the Soldier’s Medal in Italy for clearing a path through a mine field so that wounded soldiers could be evacuated. I learned all this after he had passed. I wish I had gotten a chance to know him better.

  5. By the end of the 1930s, expansionist policies of Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan had forced the United States to prepare, secretly, to fight a global war. Then, on November 30, 1939, the USSR invaded Finland with a force of a million men supported by tanks, aircraft, and naval forces. The vastly outnumbered Finnish army fought back valiantly. Soldiers in white camouflage uniforms and mounted on skis contributed much to early victories over the invading Soviets. These ski troops moved swiftly and quietly through forests deep in snow where Soviet troops—unprepared for winter warfare—could not follow. They ambushed Soviet convoys, cut Soviet supply lines, and destroyed several Soviet divisions before surrendering in mid-March 1940. By then, millions of Americans had seen ski troops in action on the big screen. Many began to wonder if the U.S. Army was prepared to fight a winter war in the mountains. Some suggested that the United States train its own ski troops.

    1. You can find out more about his service by contacting Ms. Keli Schmid at the Denver Public Library. The 10th Mountain Division Resource Center, a Library partnership, has a database of everyone who ever served in the WWII 10th.

  6. wasnt john dewey a big shot in the 10th he is on the first page in my grandfathers warbook, his name was carl spillers

  7. My old-man was STAFF SERGEANT GLENN D SIKES, HG Co. 2nd Battalion, 86th Mountain Regt…
    he was one of the first group selected for this training (they were eventually named the 87th Inf Regiment), they were initially sent to Mount Ranier, then to Camp Hale. The 87th was sent to the nearly unopposed invasion of Alleutions. He was transferred to the 86th to assist in the mountain training as he was the oldest non-com in the group; of course, the troops called him Pops. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and 2 Bronze Stars; he was designated as HQ Co’s recipient, based on combat merit, of a 5 day R&R in the Austrian Alps just weeks after the armistice, but these soldiers were called back immediately to deal with Broz Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans.

    1. Depending on the years your father was at Camp Hale he probably knew mine, as my father was a Staff Sergeant in the 86th and 87th instructing skiing and mountaineering at Camp Hale. Primarily skiing though. He too was sent to Kiska Island in the Aleutians. Japs had left, but it was still rather ugly for the troops. A little foggy and some jumpy guys Canadian troops. Did you, by chance, go to the reunion in the mid 60’s I believe, at Vale since there wasn’t much left at Camp Hale where guests could stay? lol Being a youngster, it was quite fun and an education.

      1. My late husband, Ernest L. “Tap” Tapley was at Camp Hale, part of the Mountain Training Group (MTG) then on to the Alleutians.

        Does anyone have any photos and or remember him ?

        Thanks, Anita Stalter Tapley

        1. Hi Ms. Stalter,
          My Dad, Alfred (Al) H. Peel trained at Camp Hale and was sent to the Aleutians. I have some cool photos and equipment. He was my best friend.
          John H. Peel

      2. Hi Mr. Hampton,
        Your Dad most likely knew mine. Alfred (Al) H. Peel trained at Hale and was sent to the Aleutians. I have a number of cool photos as well as equipment. Because of my Dad’s skiing background, my sister and I inherited his love for skiing and we moved to Tahoe in 1971 & 1972. I still live here on the East Shore. I remain proud of his service.
        John H. Peel

    2. Depending on the years there may be a chance that our father knew each other. My Father was a Staff Sargeant in the 86th at Camp Hale 43-44 maybe 42-44. He instructed primarily skiing and some mountaineering to many of the troop heading to Italy. He too was sent to the Aleutians landing on Kiska Island. The Japs had deserted the island 2 weeks earlier but US casualties still soared to over 300 mostly due to friendly fire. Some nervous Canadian troops fired on US troops in the very dense fog. Also, many died from disease and frostbite/cold-related problems. Bobby did you by chance go to the reunion in the mid 60’s or around there at Vale? It was fun and quite the education.

  8. My father, Carl Nordhagen, was in the 99th infantry and trained at Camp Hale. He was a part of a unit of Norwegian speaking troops who’s primary mission was to drop into the mountains of Norway and take out the heavy water plant the Germans had erected. Before they were sent on this mission allied planes were able to take out this plant with newly developed “skip” bombs. Their unit was then deployed to Normandy (as I understand it) on D+5. They fought in several battles including the Battle of the Bulge. My father always said lots of their troops started most of the ski hills etc after the war. However, I don’t see any mention of this unit in the history of Camp Hale, only the 10th mountain division. Why?

  9. My Dad was in the 10th mountain in the early 50s. He was a great climber and only recently had to stop (he’s 86, sharp as a tack, 6’6” and in better shape than most 30 year olds.) Any idea where I may be able to find some photos? He always talks about his time in the 10th mountain.

  10. My botany professor at the College of Forestry in Syracuse, NY (now called Environmental Science and Forestry) in the mid 60s was a member of the 10th Mountain Div. and fought in Italy in WW2. It wasn’t until after his death that we learned he was wounded and lost a lung. He could out hike students 20 years younger climbing in NY’s Adirondack mountains. He never lost his love of the mountains and was a member of the 46ers, a group that had climbed all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks. He advocated for their protection during all of his long career. He was quite a guy and much beloved by his students and in my mind, a hero.

  11. My Grandfather Edgar Dennin was with the 90th in K Co he was from upstate NY and enlisted in 1941 from what we know he was in the Philippines before he was transferred to the 10th Mountain at Camp Hale. I am trying to research his service and have a request in through the National Archives for his records. If anyone knows anything or has anything relevant please let me know. I grew up across town from my Grandfather and saw him often though he seldom spoke about his time in the Army he taught all of his kids and grandkids to ski and volunteered as a fireman for over 30 years after he returned from the Army.

  12. My Dad (Bill Charles) was C-86 Staff Sgt. Trained in Camp Hale, He Fought at Riva Ridge and Mt Belvedere. I have a photo of the troops in Camp Hale and a really old “YANK” magazine from when they broke the Germans back. My Dad came home to Upstate NY and became early Ski Patrol member, I have letter from Minot Dole to him. My Dad was a NE Ski Patrol Section Chief for a long time, he also helped start our local Mt (Royal Mt) He taught so many people how to ski!! He was an awesome skier too. I am so thankful he taught me how to ski, I thank him (in heaven) every day I ski. It’s awesome that there are monuments and photos at so many Ski areas and in hotels all honoring these great men. I was lucky to go to a 10th Reunion at Keystone in the 90’s we went to Cooper Mt for a Statue unveiling. Really nice reading the tributes on here! Never Forget!! What a great bunch of Hero’s they were!

  13. My Dad, Donald E. Goodman, born in 1905 in Arizona, was in the 10th and trained at Camp Hale. I thought he would have been one of the oldest because he said he was too old to be drafted when enlisted. However, he didn’t ship out with his division because of either pneumonia, or because he was called home when his father died. I can figure it out if someone can tell me when the division shipped out. He carved a figurine on skis with pack that looks very much like the image on the front of the movie.

  14. My grandfather PFC Amos J. Michael from Comfort W.V. , fought with the 85th Mt., in WW-2 in Italy.He had a handicapped son, but went to war anyway.Upon arrival at the train station with his family at Charleston WV for departure to boot camp,there was a great calmness among all the men present when they seen Amos and his son George saying farewell.A captain came up to my grandmother Ruby and told her to get on the train with George that they can ride with Amos as far as she was allowed if he got in trouble,so be it.They made it to Kentucky and my g-grandfather Rev. Elias Michael picked them up.Amos was wounded but came home .I thank god for him.

  15. Paul Petzoldt didn’t found a ski area but he did start NOLS (national outdoor leadership school) some years later. He was hired to teach the division how to dress, camp, navigate, rescue and live outside in the mountains. He was a key ‘brain trust’ to their success.

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