In November, we celebrated our nation’s veterans. It is paramount to honor the veterans of our great nation for something in addition to their sacrifices made on the battlefield.
We often fail to recognize the numerous, significant contributions our veterans make. One particularly influential group of valiant soldiers with which I, as an avid skier, am most familiar are the members of the 10th Mountain Division.
Charles Minot Dole, founder and chairman of the National Ski Patrol, petitioned government officials and President Roosevelt for a mountain division of the armed forces in 1941. Shortly after, the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Marshall, adopted the idea of a mountain unit. By 1943, this division was activated as the 10th Mountain Division.
The 10th Mountain Division was an elite group of soldiers trained to fight in the mountainous landscapes of Europe. These soldiers were expert skiers and skilled adapters to life in the harsh winters.
They trained at Camp Hale near Leadville, Colo. Skiers and mountain climbers from across the country joined the division, including many from prestigious institutions in the Northeast, such as Dartmouth College. Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman and countless world champion skiers joined the 10th. Werner and Rupert von Trapp, members of the famed von Trapp family depicted in “The Sound of Music,” were also a part of the unit.
The men of the 10th Mountain Division fought off the Nazis in the mountains of Italy. They were vital to the Nazis’ eventual surrender of Italy. Their rigorous training in the Pando Valley of Colorado was essential for success in the unknown territories of Europe.
After hearing that the Nazis had surrendered Italy, the 10th Mountain Division celebrated accordingly — with a ski race down 8,789-foot Mount Mangart. There was no better way for this unique division to celebrate an accomplishment it helped achieve.
My first contact with the 10th Mountain Division came a few years ago on a family vacation to Stowe. I came across a gargantuan statue of a man dressed in a snowy white uniform with a pair of white skis resting on his right shoulder.
Intrigued, I learned that these men defeated the Nazis in the mountains of Italy. I learned more about these soldiers’ accomplishments in the war, but I had yet to realize the lasting legacy they left after their war duties were over.
What these men did after they came home from the war is truly extraordinary and deserves to be recognized.
By founding ski resorts, creating magazines about skiing, directing and founding ski schools, and opening ski shops across the nation, the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division forever changed winter sports in the United States. Popular world-renowned ski resorts such as Vail and Aspen were founded by veterans of the 10th Mountain Division.
These men popularized ski culture often found in the Alps of Europe, shared their expertise with younger generations to grow the sport of skiing in the United States, educated those interested via popular magazines, and supplied those eager to learn with needed equipment.
Without these men, the development of skiing as a popular winter sport in the U.S. could not have been fully achieved.
All of these accomplishments also brought job creation, boosted economic productivity generated by the creation of new resorts, and propelled forward a now widely popular winter sport in the U.S.
It is safe to say that the men of the 10th Mountain Division popularized, commercialized and created the ski culture we have in the U.S. today. For that I am forever thankful.
I think it is time that we as a nation recognize the services that our veterans have accomplished here at home after the fighting overseas was done. Next time you see a veteran, please thank him or her for their service and ask him or her what he/she is doing now. Fighting to defend one’s nation is a hard enough task on its own, and to come back and live a normal life from which others can benefit is just as difficult. Thank you to all of our veterans in this nation. May those who left us rest in peace. God bless the USA!
Charlie Kutz is a high-school junior at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School in Kingston, Pa.