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Vets make annual ski pilgrimage

Deb Accord

ON TENNESSEE PASS, Colorado (AP) – On a February day in 1945, members of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division climbed a 1,500-foot cliff in the dark to clear the way for a drive into northern Italy that ultimately helped liberate that country from the Nazis.On a March day, 57 years later, the division was together again, this time on a bright, sunny day, celebrating friendships forged during World War II and clearing nothing more than a serpentine path down a hard-packed mountain trail at Ski Cooper.About two dozen veterans and their spouses have made an annual pilgrimage to Cooper for several decades to ski together, relive their military careers and catch up on each other’s lives.Each year, the group gets smaller. Most of its members are in their 80s, and several are in their 90s. Still, these guys are skiers, and at Cooper, they do what they have done all their lives – ski.Skiing and the 10th Mountain Division have been entwined for decades. In 1940, an ardent skier named Charles Minot Dole wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt. Dole was chairman of the National Ski Patrol Committee, and he had been watching the work of Finnish ski troops who were effective against Soviet invaders in the early days of World War II. Dole offered to recruit skiers who could train U.S. troops in ski patrol work.”In this country,” he wrote, “there are 2 million skiers, equipped, intelligent and able. I contend that it is more reasonable to make soldiers out of skiers than skiers out of soldiers.”So skiers were recruited for the 10th. They trained on the mountains between Vail and Leadville, wearing heavy, 7-foot-long planks of hickory carved into skis, thick leather boots and heavy canvas backpacks.It was a formula that worked, said Newc Eldredge of New Hampshire, a former ski jumper who was in the 10th.”It was an all-volunteer outfit. You had to have three letters of recommendation to get in. The guys who joined were united by a love of the mountains, a love of skiing and rock climbing. That same love of the outdoors and skiing is what has kept us together all these years,” Eldredge said. “After we came back, most of the guys on ski teams and the guys starting resorts were 10th Mountain guys.”Vail founders Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton were members of the 10th Mountain Division. The group’s meeting at Cooper, the mountain where they trained for World War II, is informal. They gathered in the lodge, then took the chairlift to the top of the mountain so they could ski down in formation.Tiny McWade was entrusted with the 10th Mountain flag on the trip down the mountain. McWade has traveled from his home in Massachusetts to the Colorado reunion of his unit every year except one, he said.”It’s important,” he said. “We see this mountain, and it doesn’t look much different than it did in those training days.”McWade and other members of the 10th lived for a while in Civilian Conservation Corps-built housing in what is today the ski area’s parking lot.”We had the longest T-bar in the world back then, but that’s gone now,” he said. “We also had to turn in those old boards. I’m glad they’re gone.”This story came from the Colorado Springs Gazette via the Associated Press. Vail, Colorado


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