The Ski Trooper: 10th Mountain Soldier Statue or The History of the Ski Patrol in the United States


In the winter of 1936, Charles “Minnie” Dole, a veteran and outdoors enthusiast, recognized a problem. On a skiing trip on the Toll Road at Mount Mansfield in Vermont, Dole fell and broke an ankle. His friend and fellow skier, Frank Edson, assisted with his injury while their wives searched for help. The wives returned hours later with only a piece of tin roofing to use as a splint — not exactly the cavalry Dole had expected. Nine weeks later, his friend Edson was killed on the Ghost Trail in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, when he skied into a tree.

The fatal accident sent shock waves through the ski community of the 1930s. Ronald Palmedo, a skiing pioneer who helped make amateur skiing mainstream, asked Dole to lead a ski-safety committee to study causes of ski accidents and methods to prevent them. In 1938, Dole and 94 volunteers created the National Ski Patrol as a subcommittee of the National Ski Association, now called the United States Ski Association. Twenty years later, the National Ski Patrol became an independent organization.

When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in the winter of 1939, some 400,000 Russian troops braved subzero temperatures and expected to steamroll through the numerically inferior Finnish force. But the Finnish employed unconventional warfare tactics, donning white fatigues and skis to form the elite Finnish ski troopers. They prepared ambush sites, using the snowy, wooded landscapes to conceal their positions. They threw satchel charges and Molotov cocktails into exposed parts of mechanized tanks to destroy them from the inside out. They even made makeshift mechanized vehicles of their own, replacing tracks or wheels with skis.

The success of the Finnish ski troopers in the Winter War and their annihilation of two Russian tank divisions spawned Dole’s idea for training American winter-warfare troops. Dole presented his idea to the Army chief of staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, in 1940. In the winters of 1940 and 1941, six Army divisions went through experimental winter-warfare training. Then the surprise Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor brought World War II to the United States. The first US Army mountain-warfare unit was given the green light the next day.

The 87th Mountain Infantry officially formed in Fort Lewis, Washington, Dec. 8, 1941, and in 1942 it fielded the most experienced volunteers with outdoorsman backgrounds. These men brought expertise as skiers, mountaineers, forest rangers, trappers, lumbermen, guides, and even cowboys and mule skinners. The 87th Mountain Infantry was moved to Camp Hale, Colorado, where it officially expanded into the 10th Light Division (Alpine) on July 15, 1943. It was renamed the 10th Mountain Division in November 1944. These ski troops saw action overseas in Italy, arriving there in January 1945 with orders to take Mount Belvedere.

Mount Belvedere, located in the Apennine Mountains, stood just beyond the snowy shelf of peaks named Riva Ridge. On the night of Feb. 18, 1945, 1,000 infantrymen from five companies of the 10th Mountain Division infiltrated a German stronghold on Riva Ridge. The 2,000-foot ascent was nothing compared with the training they experienced back home.

Members of what was then called the 10th Light Division (Alpine) prepare for ski training at Camp Hale, Colo. The National Ski Patrol, which Charles Minot Dole directed, recruited men for the division. Photo courtesy of the US Army.
“In the Apennines, a high peak is maybe 5,000 feet,” Earl Clark, a former battalion staff officer, told the Chicago Tribune in 1997. “We often said the training at Camp Hale was far more severe, as far as weather and elevation, than anything we faced in combat.”

The soldiers traveled all night in complete darkness and refused to return fire at the Germans, using lessons they’d learned in training to protect the element of surprise. “We take a lot of casualties up there, but we captured and kept it,” Harrison Coleman, a 20-year-old rifleman at the time of the maneuver, told the Chicago Tribune.

The Allies ultimately secured victory in Europe by May 1945. Its combat experience in the mountains of Italy informed the 10th Mountain Division’s tactics. The complex environment and scenarios that manifest in mountain warfare require that soldiers be comfortable operating in such environments. The US Army Mountain Warfare School held at Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho, Vermont, teaches soldiers skiing, climbing, rappelling, mountaineering, how to perform high-angle mountain search and rescue operations, and other important skills.

The National Ski Patrol screened potential candidates before they could join the 10th Mountain Division. The ski troops fought in Italy during World War II and returned home to transform the skiing industry…

… While the military machine advanced forward and evolved its tactics, the mountain-warfare veterans of World War II returned to civilian life to develop dozens of ski resorts, improvements to ski equipment, and commercialized ski clothing. Dole’s commitment to solving nationwide problems helped transform the United States as it entered the golden age for the ski industry post-World War II.

This golden age introduced ordinary citizens to snow sports on snowy mountaintops all over the world. As snow sports’ popularity grew, other nations took notice and built their own ski patrols. In 1979, those nations combined their efforts under the umbrella of the Fédération Internationale des Patrouilles de Ski (International Federation of Ski Patrols). Today, 18 countries meet to exchange ideas and compare the best safety practices and patrol techniques to enhance the capabilities of their ski patrols back home. The National Ski Patrol has 31,000 members serving 650 patrols worldwide.”-


During World War II, a group of enthusiastic young men with a passion for skiing enlisted in a new division of the United States Military called the 10th Mountain Division. The Division had a major impact on the allies, breaking up the German Gothic Line and were essential in ending the war quickly and efficiently. Not only did the division have a major impact on winning the war, but on the creation of the modern ski industry.

The 10th mountain division was a major influence on the ski industry in Colorado and the post-war ski economy. Their influence increased the popularity of the sport, creating Ski Resorts in Colorado, and impacting nearly every part of the industry. The ski industry would have never taken off after World War II if it was not for the 10th Mountain veterans.

The 10th Mountain veterans made it possible for middle class Americans to get involved in recreational skiing and improved many ski technologies, making skiing easier to learn. One way that the division helped middle class Americans get access to skiing was by providing affordable gear. After the war, a surplus of war ski gear was put onto the market, driving prices down. Many people who could otherwise never afford the sport now were able to actively participate.

Also, skiing became easier when veterans began inventing new technologies and working with people such as Howard Head to improve skis, creating the first ski that shortened the learning curve. In 1947, Howard Head designed the “Head Standard” ski that was easier to use, less breakable, and was more affordable than other wooden skis. Many 10th Mountain veterans worked with Head to help him develop the skis because they were the most well trained skiers in the country and knew how to make a ski that worked for thousands of people. Head Skis continue to be one of the most popular ski brands. Without the 10th Mountain veterans, skiing would not be as accessible to the average American.

After the war, many 10th Mountain veterans grew to love Colorado because of their training at Camp Hale in Leadville. A love for skiing and of Colorado created a perfect mix for veterans to create ski areas in Colorado. In 1946, 10th mountain veteran Lawrence Jump set out to create the first ski area in Colorado, Arapahoe Basin, created almost entirely with help from 10th mountain veterans (Celebrating it’s 70th season). Veteran Earl Clark became a member of the National Ski patrol and volunteered as the head ski patrol at Arapahoe Basin, veteran Wilfred Davis designed the trail maps and made sure they affected as little wildlife as possible, and Veteran Merrill Hastings was the head of the construction in building Arapahoe Basin. Shortly after the creation of Arapahoe Basin, veterans Friedl Pfeifer, Percy Rideout, and John Litchfield founded Aspen, officially opening in 1947.

Many 10th Mountain veterans were essential to the creation of Aspen. Friedl Pfeifer was the original founder of the resort and made it possible for it to become a popular ski destination. Fritz Benedict was the lead zoning and planning chairman and was essential in creating the resort. Veteran Curtis Chase lead the Aspen ski patrol starting in 1946 and played a role in developing the ski school. They also revolutionized the “basic turn” now known as the American Ski Technique. Veterans Wilfred Davis and Ted Ryan created runs and trail maps.

Although there were no other 10th Mountain veterans that founded ski resorts in Colorado, many of them obtained executive positions and were the reasons that resorts such as Breckenridge and Steamboat were able to thrive. Breckenridge Ski resort was founded in 1961. Veteran Paul Duke was the executive manager of Breckenridge for many years and was essential for its increase in popularity. Steamboat Springs was created in 1963 and Veteran Gordon Wren, who placed fifth in ski jumping in the 1948 Olympics, started the youth ski program. Wren was essential in creating the popular “ski town USA”, and the youth ski program, has now produced more US ski team athletes than any other ski area in the nation. Not only did veterans start ski resorts in Colorado, but across the country. Earl Clark highlights this by saying, “you can take what happened in our industry here in Colorado and place it all over the United States, because 64 ski areas were started by or operated by the men of the 10th after World War II.” Without the effort of countless Veterans on ski resorts in Colorado, the entire dynamic of the state would be different.

10th Mountain veterans also had an influence on nearly every other aspect of the ski industry such as environmental work and the creation the 10th Mountain hut system. The environment has a major impact on the ski industry, and veteran David Brower took a stand and advocated for environmental issues, helping maintain a thriving environment in Colorado and Utah. Brower successfully campaigned against many developments that would destroy natural land and animal habitat. Brower created many environmental organizations including Sierra Club Foundation, Friends of the Earth, and Earth Institute for Environmental Studies. Environmental concerns are a major factor in ski area development and the ski industry, so Brower helped ensure that the ski industry was doing minimal harm to the environment. Although Brower helped with sustainability when these resorts were being created, he was against the rapid development in Colorado. Brower had a militant approach to environmental regulations and believed that ski resorts being created in Colorado after the war was destroying animal habitats. Browsers stance was that too much development was going to harm the environment in countless ways, so he did as much work as possible to ensure that the ski resort development was doing minimal damage, despite being against the development.

Also, veteran Fritz Benedict created the 10th Mountain Division hut system, which is a trail system with multiple huts stretching from Vail to Aspen. In 1980, Benedict linked 30 miles of trails and built over a dozen huts in the mountains between Vail and Aspen. The inspiration for creating this hut system was the experience that Benedict had at Camp Hale, he believed it was “…the way skiing started. It was simple and a lot of camaraderie…it’s getting back to the way skiing was started, and to preserve that is so important.” Veterans Carl Stingel, Pete Seibert and Dick Wright also helped Benedict create the Hut System.The hut system is enjoyed by thousands annually. 10th mountain veterans also influenced many other aspects of the ski industry. Many veterans went on to become professional skiers participating in many Olympic skiing events. Veterans also created Skiing magazine, which was the first of many ski magazines that have a major impact on skiers around the country . The 10th Mountain Division influenced nearly every aspect of the ski industry.

The 10th Mountain Division ski troops were the driving force behind the entire ski industry’s rise after World War II. Their passion for the outdoors combined with their experience and love for the mountains helped shape the ski industry in countless ways. Without the division, skiing’s popularity would never have increased, many ski areas in Colorado would not have been created, and nearly every other aspect of skiing would have been different than it is today. The 10th Mountain Division directly shaped the modern ski industry.”-

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: