Sandy Treat, a Vail icon and 10th Mountain Division vet, dies at 96

Beloved veteran delivered weekly talks at Colorado Snowsports Museum recounting tales from World War II era

Editor’s note: The Vail Daily has been privileged to write about Sandy Treat many times. His quotes in this tribute are pulled from some of those stories.

VAIL — After training in Camp Hale and fighting through northern Italy during World War II with the famed 10th Mountain Division, Vail icon Sandy Treat spent the rest of his life smiling.

Treat’s run ended at 96 on Sunday, but his smile lives on.

Among his many contributions to the Vail community, Treat hosted the Colorado Snowsports Museum’s Tales of the 10th Mountain Division, a weekly series of talks by members of the famed division. The standing-room-only crowds almost always greeted Treat with a hero’s welcome. He deserved it, as do thousands of others.

For every Colorado Snowsports Museum presentation, Treat worked his way through the crowd of well-wishers and fans. He took a seat at the front of the room, cleared his throat and began to tell stories.

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He loved to entertain questions. His presentations sometimes shifted, depending on what he was asked.

Someone always asked, “Were you scared when you went to war?”

“Sure!” came Treat’s reply. “When someone next to me was shot, I was damned scared!”

Then that smile returned to his eyes.

“Let’s make this a happy thing. I’ve seen a lot of unhappy things, lots of terrible things,” Treat told the crowd.

Sandy the second

Treat was raised on a farm outside New York City by his mother, Jane, and father, the original Sandy Treat. His father graduated from New York Military Academy and fought in World War I. He taught his son to shoot and ski.

Sandy Sr. skied behind his thrill-seeking son controlling Sandy Jr.’s speed with a rope, keeping him from obeying the laws of gravity and inertia with missionary zeal. About halfway down, young Sandy shouted, “OK, Dad, let me go!”

It’s what you do with children — you let them go. And, oh, the places Treat went.

The Depression hammered Treat’s family, as it did so many. His father’s businesses cratered and the family lost almost everything except each other. Young Sandy worked delivering The New York Times and New York Tribune to help the family.

Eventually, the family rebuilt the businesses and sent a young Sandy Treat Jr. to the prestigious Deerfield Academy, where he excelled in both academics and athletics — he was captain of the ski team and earned a Major League Baseball tryout.

He headed for Dartmouth College and was a member of the ski team that won a national championship. But he wasn’t there long. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1942. His mother wrote to him every day he was in the service.

The legendary Minnie Dole, who founded the 10th Mountain Division, the National Ski Patrol and so much more, asked Treat about his qualifications for the 10th. Treat told him, “I can ski fast and for a long way.”

Camp Hale tales

Treat boarded a train in New York with 15 other guys and headed west to Camp Hale. Hundreds were already there. Thousands would follow. Between 1942 and 1945, 15,000 men trained in Camp Hale, located between Leadville and Red Cliff.

Calisthenics included push-ups in the snow without gloves, “to toughen them up,” Treat said. The Germans were well trained and battle-hardened.

“You gotta learn to deal with tough stuff,” Treat said. “We were a bunch of college guys with no experience.”

It wasn’t all misery. One day an officer walked up to him and barked, “Are you Sandy Treat?”

“Yes sir,” Treat replied.

“We want you to climb up in that clump of trees so the photographer can take a picture,” the officer ordered.

So he did, except the photographer told him to take off his clothes for the picture.

Treat may or may not remember the picture, but he remembered it was so cold that the photographer fumbled around and dropped his camera. Sandy also remembered it took a long time.

“I thought, ‘I’m gonna die before I even get started,’” Treat said.

He didn’t die. He survived Camp Hale, the Battle of Riva Ridge and much more.

Mostly, though, the soldiers training at Camp Hale understood they were preparing to kill or be killed.

“Fun? There was no fun. We were angry! I mean really angry! Pearl Harbor had happened. We couldn’t wait to go out and fight the enemy!” Treat told Karolina Blodgett.

Ironically, the skiing soldiers did not ski during combat in Europe, Treat said. It was spring when they arrived in Italy and a few guys skied on a patrol. Their skis made such a clatter on the rocks that it gave away their position.

“We didn’t ski in combat. We didn’t even have our skis in Europe,” Treat said.

‘You must come to Wail!’

Another Vail icon, Pepi Gramshammer, recruited Treat to Vail with a simple admonition: “You must come to Wail! That’s the place!” Gramshammer said in his distinctive Austrian accent. Vail founder Pete Seibert told Treat about launching the Country Club of the Rockies, knowing he was an avid golfer. So, in 1986 after a successful business career, Treat did.

Even before returning to Colorado, Treat wrote to then-Vail Mayor Paul Johnston asking how he could help the community. Johnston was an absolute fountain of suggestions.

Treat had a big effect on the small town.

He served on several nonprofit boards, bringing his business acumen with him and pulling a couple of local operations back from financial ruin.

In 1989, the World Alpine Ski Championships returned to the United States for the first time since 1952. Treat strapped on his volunteer coat and, along with hundreds of others, stepped up. He worked with Sarge Brown, mountain operations department manager. It also helped assuage some European sensibilities that Treat was a World Cup expert.

Treat first started Masters ski racing near his home in Toronto. After moving to Vail, he dominated the men’s Masters division of the Rocky Mountain region well into his 80s. His racing days ended with a horrific crash in 2009 that cost him the sight in one eye.

He was skiing again in less than a year, this time with Foresight Ski Guides, a service for visually impaired and blind skiers, and the Vail Veterans Program that brings military personnel injured in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families to Vail for ski and golf vacations.

He won the Inaugural Heart of the Community Award, and in 2010 was inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame, a class that included local legends Dr. Jack Eck and Dr. Richard Steadman.

Sandy outlived three wives and one of his children. He lived to see Sandy Treat V born nine months ago.

During one of last summer’s Tales of the 10th presentations, he smiled at a standing-room-only crowd.

“I’ve had a lovely life,” he told them.

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