By Bill Hoffland
Every year for the past 37 years the veterans and families of the 10th Mountain Division from World War II have been gathering for a week of skiing in the high peaks of Colorado for an event dubbed “Ski Week.” The 10th Mountain Division, along with the 99th Infantry Battalion Separate were the only ski troops of the U.S. Army, and played an important role in the liberation of northern Italy during WWII. Many ski resorts in Colorado were formed by former 10th Mountain vets, including Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge, and a large number of 10th Mountain vets worked in the ski industry after the war – managing and founding ski areas, developing ski equipment, and working for the Olympics.
Thirty years ago there were over 125 veterans attending the annual Ski Week, but as time marches on each year sees fewer veterans. This year there were twelve veterans taking part. Not all of the vets in attendance are still skiing, but quite a few still are, including ninety-seven-year-old Nelson Bennett from Washington State. Bennett worked for the Olympics for over thirty years and managed the Sun Valley, Idaho and other ski areas for many years. Hugh Evans, 88, from Boulder was back again this year, along with Jim Brey. Bob Yank came from California, and Jimmy Nasser, 87, came from Massachusetts. The week started off on Feb. 15 at Ski Keystone. The next day the vets skied Arapahoe Basin, followed by a two day “Ski-In” at Ski Cooper near Leadville. The 10th, along with the 99th, trained at Cooper during the war. They were stationed at Camp Hale, seven miles west of Ski Cooper. On Feb. 17 current vets and their families were joined by members of the current Special Forces Group of the 10th Mountain Division who were training in winter warfare at the Leadville Airport. A memorial service was held at 3 PM at the 10th Monument at the entrance to the ski area at Tennessee Pass. Sunday was a free day, and the 10th were to dedicate a monument to the field house that was moved from Camp Hale and rebuilt near Silverthorne, CO. The vets went on to ski Breckenridge and Vail, finishing up Ski Week at Keystone.
The 10th Mountain veterans and their families will continue their annual Ski Week again next year, and the families will uphold the tradition long after the last vet passes away. I have been fortunate to have been able to meet these veterans and talk to them about their lives in skiing and during the war. The history of the ski troops in WWII is fascinating and inspiring.
While many Coloradans are aware of the 10th Mountain Division and their achievements during the war, the same cannot be said about the 99th Infantry Battalion. Late in 2011, the 99th became the “99th Infantry Battalion Separate, WWII, Educational Foundation.” Please visit our web site at www.99thinfantrybattalion.org to learn more about the 99th.
Bill Hoffland is the President, 99th Infantry Battalion Separate, WWII, Educational Foundation.