Pete prepares for war
Just putting up tents seemed an impossible dream. And once a tent was up, the snow melted around it, soaking tent, sleeping bag and occupant. In sub-zero temperatures, the danger of freezing to death was very real.
The expert skiers among us tried to teach these lowlanders the rudiments of skiing – mainly snowplows and stem turns. Just as some of them were beginning to get the idea, however, the camp commander ordered everyone to carry rifles and rucksacks for all training drills, heavy snow or not. This resulted in yet another problem: When the poor beginners toppled over into the deep powder snow that fell constantly during that winter of 1943-44, they floundered helplessly like turtles on their backs. They had to fight so hard merely to get to their feet that some became utterly enfeebled and had to be admitted to a field hospital.
Another part of the Camp Hale routine was the care and feeding of the animals – hundreds of horses and mules that were used to haul equipment and guns on our training journeys into the backcountry.
Stable duty was not a favorite assignment, but we managed to make some fun out of it. I was once mucking out the mules’ stalls with Steve Knowlton, my best friend in the division and a fellow New Englander who would go on to have a major post-war influence on skiing in Colorado. We were working in the manure with shovel and rake when the bugler began to play retreat. When the bugle sounded, we were all supposed to stop what we were doing and present arms with our rifles. Steve and I hesitated, then quickly snapped to attention and presented the arms we had at hand – rake and shovel.
Someone saw us and turned us in. We had to do “KP,” or kitchen patrol, for the next month.
The following is the 17th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter Four, entitled “The War Years.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.