Slovenia celebrates 10th Mountain Division, 75th anniversary of Mt. Mangart race
Chris Anthony's new film reinvigorates interest in a ski race that took place at the conclusion of World War II
The 10th Mountain Division was celebrated in Slovenia in June in an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II in Europe.
The event took place at the base of Mt. Mangart, in a nod to the work of local ski film star turned historian Chris Anthony, who has helped to invigorate American interest in the 10th Mountain Division’s presence in the region following the conclusion of the war. The 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army trained at Camp Hale in Eagle County near Red Cliff before heading to the mountains of Italy to fight in WWII.
Following the conclusion of fighting in Europe, the 10th hosted a ski race on Mt. Mangart in June of 1945, an event that was largely forgotten about in the U.S., but remained a celebrated piece of ski history in the local region around the massive peak.
“Throughout the war they fought for freedom alongside forces resisting occupation in Slovenia,” Ambassador Lynda Blanchard said from Mangart in June. “But what they discovered on the slopes of this stunning peak was that Americans and Slovenians have even more in common — a shared sense of adventure, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and joy. And in the decades since, the relationship between our two nations has continued to grow and thrive based on shared heritage, shared values, and what soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division learned as they strapped on their skis on a spring day in 1945 — that we just really enjoy each other’s company.”
‘Making it widely known’
A few years ago, Anthony began work on a film project about the troops’ experience on Mt. Mangart, and received help from Slovenian historian and retired brigadier general Janez Kavar.
“Retired general Janez Kavar is definitely one of the people who has spearheaded keeping this story alive and making it widely known here in Slovenia,” said Public Affairs Officer J.B. Leedy with the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Kavar’s son Andrej, who works in the Multilateral Relations and Defense Diplomacy Division at Ministry of Defense in Slovenia, helped organize the 75th anniversary event, with help from Anthony, the U.S. Embassy and the Colorado National Guard.
“Andrej reached out to us and had this idea, with his dad, that we should really commemorate the 75th anniversary, and to us it was a no brainer,” Eddie Kim with the Colorado National Guard said from Slovenia on Thursday.
CO to SLO
The state partnership between Colorado and Slovenia is especially active.
The Colorado National Guard is “one of our strongest resources … in terms of outreach to Slovenes here,” Leedy said from Slovenia on Thursday, saying the guard helps with training, emergency management, fire management and flood management.
Slovenian armed forces have assisted Anthony in making his film, providing mountain warfare soldiers to help with some of the filming.
“They’re proud of their relationship with the U.S., particularly their defense and security relationship, and very much see this as the nexus of it, and where it may have all started,” Leedy said.
Former Slovenian Minister of Defense Karl Erjavec visited Colorado in the fall of 2019 to meet with Major General Michael A. Loh of the Colorado National Guard.
New defense minister Matej Tonin, who took office in March, joined Ambassador Blanchard at the Mangart event in June.
“He’s really looking forward to coming out to Colorado as soon as we can travel,” Leedy said.
The event was supposed to double as the world premiere of Anthony’s film about the 10th Mountain Division’s activity on Mt. Mangart.
“We had been working for the better part of a year with our colleagues in the Slovenian Armed Forces, the Colorado National Guard, the community in Bovec and the Soca Valley, and Chris, to put together an amazing event up on the mountain,” Leedy said. “It was going to involve family members of the original participants, coming over to participate and tour, we were going to launch a special exhibit with panels explaining the history of the event, and have a big reception.”
The pandemic canceled most of those plans, “but we weren’t going to let it go entirely, so we fought to keep an event,” Leedy said. “The event was in the saddle of Mt. Mangart, the highest road in Slovenia, in the shadow of the mountain, with the slope itself right behind us. The defense minister and the ambassador were flown in via helicopter.”
Leedy said Anthony’s film has created a lot of excitement in Slovenia.
“He’s received outstanding support from the local community in trying to recreate some of the scenes, and getting people to volunteer,” Leedy said. “Having a film like Chris’ air in Vail, and getting attention, and raising awareness of Slovenia and our history together as partners is huge.”