10th Mountain Legacy Parade returns on Friday
The first of three legacy parades will feature a torchlight ski, fireworks, short film and parade through Vail Village
The first 10th Mountain Legacy Parade of the season is taking place at 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 14, in Vail Village.
Skiers dressed in traditional 10th Mountain Division Ski Trooper uniforms will perform a torchlight ski down Pepi’s Face, accompanied by fireworks and a large 10th Mountain Division logo projected onto the side of Vail Mountain.
A short film will play at the base of the mountain describing the history and accomplishments of the 10th Mountain Division, followed by a marching parade of military veterans, dressed in traditional 10th Mountain uniforms, through Bridge Street to the Ski Trooper statue.
This is the third year that the town is hosting the legacy parades, and the first of three parades that will take place this season.
Jeff Wiles is the guest services manager for Vail Resorts, and was a leader in the creation and execution of the parades. Wiles is from a military family and spent many years skiing with the original 10th Mountain Division veterans in Vail.
“15, 20 years ago we had a bunch of the original 10th Mountain guys,” Wiles said. “These guys were in their 70s and 80s then, and they were still skiing. We’d ski down Riva Ridge as a group and have the 10th Mountain veterans all lead the way down in a kind of serpentine path, and we’d get to the bottom and there’d be a little celebration.”
The last original 10th Mountain veteran stopped skiing three years ago, at the age of 94, and Wiles and the resort wanted to find a way to continue to celebrate their legacy and keep the presence of the 10th Mountain veterans alive in Vail.
“The parade is just to remind people, introduce people, and connect people with the heritage of the 10th Mountain Division,” Wiles said. “Around the country, 61 ski areas were founded by members of the 10th Mountain Division from World War II, and a lot of people don’t know that. So I think the whole premise of it is to help our guests that come into town understand the genesis of Vail.”
Wiles puts on the parade with the help of event manager Shawn Carney; Mike Kearl, who runs audio and video; Greg Willis and BJ Aguilar, who direct the torchlight parade; and Jeff Babb, who oversees the full operation.
The marching parade through the village is led by veterans of various wars who currently work for Vail Resorts. In past years, original 10th Mountain veterans would participate in the parade, but age and the pandemic environment have made this no longer tenable.
Bill Welch, a veteran Marine Lieutenant who served in Vietnam, has been marching in the legacy parades since they began in 2017.
”I think any of the vets that live in the valley and have been around know the history of the 10th Mountain Division and Camp Hale,” Welch said. “We go every August or September and have a little camp over there, and you can see these K-ration cans all over the place. You realize all the sacrifices that they went through training for it. It’s a great honor, just to be able to represent them.”
The veterans dress in the original uniforms and helmets, and carry the same model of ski that was used during World War II, as well as replica rifles from that time period to complete the authentic look. Welch said that getting to see and touch the gear that the regiment used increases the respect for their accomplishments in battle all the more.
“You get such admiration for these guys that did what they did on terrible equipment,” Welch said. “Their tents were pup tents — you and I would each carry a half, and we’d put it together — and cotton uniforms. They didn’t have any of the Gortex gear and the stuff we have today. It’s just amazing to see what they did.”
At the end of the march, the veterans gather at the Ski Trooper statue next to the covered bridge and hand out commemorative 10th Mountain Division pins to parade-goers.
“My favorite story is one time we were passing out pins, and there’s a line of people, and this little boy comes up. I gave him the pin, and he said, ‘This is the greatest day of my life’,” Welch said, getting emotional as he reflected on the memory. “An 8-year-old cub scout from Eagle. So it’s pretty emotional to be a proxy for the 10th Mountain guys, because that’s something that was a comment to them, but they couldn’t be here, so it’s us. Those types of experiences, you know — it just caught me completely off-guard. It is tremendous to see that type of support, especially from the local people here in the valley.”
This year, as the senior member of the group, Welch will lead the parade and carry the American flag through Vail Village, accompanied by 11 other veterans from the valley.
“It’s a good mix between Vietnam guys — the old guys — and the younger Middle East guys and gals,” Welch said. “It’s interesting to see the differences in ages and stuff, but it is all a great honor just to be able to participate and honor these guys as a proxy for them.”
The Colorado Snowsports Museum, located in the Vail Village Parking Structure, will remain open after the parade for guests to visit and learn about Colorado’s ski history through the new 10th Mountain Division exhibit — the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.
For more information about the parade, visit DiscoverVail.com.