10th Mountain vets revisit Vail | VailDaily.com

10th Mountain vets revisit Vail

Dustin Racioppi
Vail CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail Daily10th Mountain Division 85th regement member James Nassar, right, hugs Joy Dirkes during lunch Tuesday on Colorado's Vail Mountain.

VAIL, Colorado ” The last week followed a trend for the veterans of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, said Hugh Evans, 84.

“Snafu,” he said.

For the last week, the dozen or so 80- and 90-year-olds held their annual meeting by embarking on a small tour of the area ski resorts ” andnot one day has gone smoothly, but it has been fun.

One man took a nasty fall two days ago that left a black and purple mark on his side. Another day, somebody left their skis behind in the hotel room. That was after one man forgot his ski boots. Somebody left their helmet on top of their car and nearly drove away. And another man lost his car completely for a couple hours because he was looking in the wrong parking lot.

“I don’t think that covers everything that’s gone wrong, but that gives you a good feel for what’s going on,” Evans said at Vail Mountain restaurant while surrounded bu friends he made more than 60 years ago while training at Camp Hale during World War II.

The near daily snafus are what make the annual gathering special for Evans.

“We have a lot of fun teasing each other,” he said.

There’s more to the group’s weeklong expedition than tumbles and teasing. Evans said they sing old Army songs, like “90 Pounds of Ruksack,” about a barmaid who ran off with a skier and had a child. They also go to bars, a bonding event that rivals their time on the slopes. There’s a saying among the group, Evans said, that “skiing’s good in the winter time, but drinking’s good all year round.”

The men ” none younger than 80, but most pushing 90 ” spend all week skiing, at Breckenridge, Keystone, Ski Cooper, Arapahoe Basin and Vail.

“We enjoy each other and the camaraderie,” said Andre Benoit, 88, from Maine, “and we love to ski.”

The getaway, which has occurred for more than 30 years, has also proved serendipitous. A few years ago, some of the men ran into Gianfranco Dal Santo, who was an Italian partisan during the war.

Now, they’re all friends and Dal Santo flies out from Italy each year to join in the fun and skiing.

“You can’t imagine how touching it is,” Dal Santo, 83, said.

One thing the men have learned is to cherish every moment they have together each year.

“Friends become pretty important when you get in your early 80s. In your late 80s and early 90s, they get fewer and fewer,” said John Woodward, 94. “I’m sure as heck enjoying it.”

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or dracioppi@vaildaily.com.

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