Legacy of Camp Hale
At the end of World War II, many members of the 10th Mountain Division found they did not want to go home to their pre-war lives. Instead, thousands returned to Colorado and were instrumental in shaping the modern ski industry.
Before the war, skiing was a sport for elite skiers and the upper class. In the post-war years, the growing middle class – armed with more leisure time and disposable income—discovered skiing and the industry boomed. The men of the 10th Mountain Division were ideally poised to help shape the newly-popular sport. They had skied the mountains, understood the lure of skiing, and were adventure-loving risk-takers.
Vail Ski Resort was founded by a former 10th Mountain member, and fellow ski troops helped develop Aspen, Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, and other ski areas. An estimated 2,000 men who served in the 10th Mountain division later became ski instructors or ran ski schools. Many others helped design and build ski resorts or started ski-related businesses. “We were spared in the war, so we came back to the mountains we loved,” said one former ski troop.
Camp Hale was deactivated shortly after the war, although the buildings were used by other agencies – including the CIA – for years after the ski troops left. The site was officially turned over to the U.S. Forest Service in 1966. While the buildings are long gone, hikers have found live mortar rounds and the site is currently part of a federal cleanup project to remove munitions and other hazards.
Although their numbers are dwindling, veterans of the 10th Mountain Division still gather regularly and even members in their 90s take to slopes during the reunions. A monument with the names of the 992 fallen 10th Mountain soldiers is at the top at the Tennessee Pass, not far from the Camp Hale site. For many years, veterans have gathered at the site each Memorial Day.
A number of organizations related to the ski troops still are active today, including the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, which manages an extensive ski hut system.
Said one vet, “The greatest blessing that came out of the 10th Mountain for many of us was the great common love of the mountains and it became the lives of many of us.”