Tjossem: Colorado Olympians’ connection to World War II should be honored (column)
As the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, come to a close, Colorado should be proud. Of the 242-member U.S. contingent, 31 were from Colorado, more than any state in the nation, including 26 that competed in a form of skiing or snowboarding.
As executive director of the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame for the past 11 years, I treasure the history of our rich snowsports heritage and legacy, especially as it relates to the incredible impact of World War II’s 10th Mountain Division on the development of the Colorado ski industry.
According to Colorado Ski Country USA, the ski and snowboard industry provides a significant annual impact to our state’s economy, contributing $4.8 billion to the bottom line each year, while the White River National Forest attracts approximately 13 million visitors, including our country’s best skiers and snowboarders who come to train and race. Historically, skiing has played a vital role in Colorado’s development, and that role was forged by the brave, persevering 10th Mountain Division ski troopers.
Prior to their entry into the war, the 15,000 men of the 10th Mountain Division trained at Camp Hale, in the remote Pando valley south of Leadville. There, at 9,200 feet and above, they learned cold-weather warfare skills, including alpine skiing, rock climbing and winter survival techniques. Thanks to their Colorado training, the 10th Mountain Division played a critical role in ending the war, driving the German army from the Italian Alps in hard-fought mountain battles such as Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere.
Following the war, many members of the 10th returned to Colorado and dedicated their lives to the mountains and what would become the state’s world-renowned ski industry. They founded ski resorts such as Vail, Winter Park and Arapahoe Basin, ran ski schools and joined the National Ski Patrol. They not only promoted skiing but also developed an industry and a lifestyle that we cherish today.
Many of these 10th veterans were recruited for their prowess as ski racers, an influence that is still very apparent today as we watched our state’s athletes compete in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Coloradans, including the board of directors and staff of the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame, have another means of honoring the 10th through the proposed Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act. This legislation, recently introduced by Sen. Michael Bennett and Rep. Jared Polis, would designate Camp Hale as our nation’s first Historic Landscape.
This bill would not only protect the valley floor, where the 10th Mountain troopers lived, but it would also protect nearly 28,000 acres of rugged mountain terrain, where they learned winter warfare and survival skills. This National Historic Landscape designation would create a vast living museum for visitors to see and explore the birthplace of the nation’s skiing roots, while also enjoying all the abundant recreational opportunities that currently take place in the area.
The bill would also preserve additional areas in Eagle and Summit counties, totaling nearly 100,000 acres, as wildlife conservation areas, wilderness and recreation management areas. Locals have been working for nearly a decade to preserve this slice of the White River National Forest for future generations to enjoy and learn from. I believe it is something all elected officials should support.
We have the veterans of our Greatest Generation to thank for providing the training ground for our 2018 Colorado Winter Olympians. They were the heart and inspiration for the development of the state’s ski and outdoor recreation economy.
So, as we look back and cheer the exploits of Team USA in Pyeongchang, let’s also honor the history that allowed our athletes to be there. Let’s protect Camp Hale as our nation’s first National Historic Landscape and pass the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act.
Susie Tjossem is the executive director of the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame in Vail.