Keeping history alive
VAIL — The Army’s 10th Mountain Division didn’t just help win World War II with its unique skill set, but it helped form the ski industry upon its return to the U.S. into what we see today.
On Friday, 10th Mountain Division Foundation chairman Thomas E. Hames gave an inside look at the cliff-scaling mountain men at the tasting room of the Vail whiskey company bearing the division’s name, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Co.
Twenty to 30 people filled the tasting room located right by the Covered Bridge in Vail with views of the creek and people passing by. Hames spoke both of history and personal experiences, as his father, Eugene S. Hames, of K Company in the 85th Mountain Regiment, fought in World War II with the mountaineer soldiers.
“The biggest problem with fighting wars in an area with snow or mountains is you’ve got two enemies,” Hames said. “You’ve got to survive the mountains and the weather before you can even fight the enemy.”
Hames talked about the harsh conditions the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division faced, including the two years spent training at Camp Hale. The soldiers faced extreme weather in the mountains of Colorado with old technology and gear, and they trained to have truly unique skills.
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When combat finally came for the rugged 10th Mountain Division, the soldiers lived up to its motto: Sempre Avanti — always forward.
“They took every objective they were asked to,” Hames said. “They never retreated.”
Hames included tidbits about his father, who he said was passed out drunk in Benito Mussolini’s villa in Italy when the war ended.
BUILDING THE INDUSTRY
When the soldiers returned, Hames said, they helped form a ski industry that had about 10 ski resorts during the war into one with about 70 today.
Look no further than Vail Mountain to see the soldiers’ impacts. Vail founders Pete Seibert and Bob Parker were members of the 10th Mountain Division, and the Riva Ridge trail is named after the famed battle the soldiers won against the Germans when no other division was able to find any success in the tough mountainous conditions in Italy.
Christian Avignon is a co-owner of 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits, and his grandfather was in a proud member of the mountain division. Avignon said he would regularly interact with the veterans who would visit with his grandfather, who lived next door and “through the woods.”
“They were all doing something. They were all very passionate about the outdoor lifestyle,” Avignon said. “They all worked hard and played outside hard, and I just grew up with that routinely in my life.”
Still, Avignon learned new information about the 10th Mountain Division with Hames presentation and question-and-answer that followed.
“I thought it was a great presentation because it’s different from the movies,” said Buddy Carey, of Minturn. “He adds so many other things that I enjoyed.”
“That was our era,” Sue Carey said. “We were kids during the war.”
With a deep, respected history, the Vail whiskey and spirits company found just what they were looking for when naming their brand.
“We really wanted to create something that has meaning to it,” Avignon said. “This is a story about the mountain lifestyle, and we’re trying to perpetuate that. It’s almost a mountain lifestyle company as much as it’s whiskey.”
Hames is looking to give his presentation again, both at the whiskey tasting room and possibly at the ski museum. The 10th Mountain Whiskey crew is also going to bring in mountain lifestyle events to its tasting room.
“Every time we charge down something, I just flash that 10th Mountain mentality because if those guys did it, we can certainly do it in our Gore-Tex,” Avignon said.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and email@example.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.