Construction of Camp Hale
Construction began at Camp Hale in 1942, turning the beautiful Pando Valley into an Army training post that would eventually house 14,000 ski troops, 5,000 mules and more than 800 buildings.
The Pando site was chosen in part because it had railroad and highway access, as well as access to electric power and coal mines. The other appeal was the high altitude setting which was ideal for mountain and winter training. Sitting at 9200 feet, the camp was sheltered inside a wide valley. The Pando site was surrounded by mountains, with snow for at least six months of the year. There were jagged cliffs, ice fields and steep mountains to train on. These conditions resembled the terrain of the European countries where the soldiers would later be sent to fight.
When the project was announced, thousands of people flooded the valley to help with the construction, severely taxing the area’s resources. Nearby Leadville, an old mining town, saw its population surge from 1,800 to 10,000 in just a few months. Construction workers slept in cars and tents and under trees when all available rooms filled. Food was in short supply.
The construction would take seven months and cost almost $30 million. The finished camp would spread over 247,000 acres.
Construction was a messy process. It involved cutting down thousands of trees, filling in a lake, damming and draining a river, then moving mountains of dirt to fill in the resulting soggy ground. Local papers reported that state fish and wildlife officials were called to relocate the frightened displaced trout who lost their home when the valley was filled in.
The camp‘s buildings were laid out in a grid with 21 cross streets. There was a grocery store, a military-style department store, hospital, stable, veterinary clinic, ice making plant, post office and a bakery as well as the barracks and administration buildings. The site even contained a mortuary that handled the dozens of soldiers who died from illness or training accidents.