Mountaineering Training at Camp Hale
The ski troops trained in conditions so harsh their socks and boots froze to their feet if they weren’t careful. They camped outside without tents for weeks at a time in temperatures reaching 20 degrees below zero. They slept with small tin cans of food rations inside their sleeping bags to keep them from freezing solid and rubbed bacon grease on their faces to ward off frostbite.
Some of the men were expert skiers and others had never been on skis, but both groups had to learn what it meant to be a military skier carrying 50-pound packs and heavy rifles.
In addition to skiing, the ski troops practiced ice climbing, rock climbing, snowshoeing and survival skills in extreme cold conditions. The dreaded D-Series training took the men to elevations above 13,000 feet for several weeks. During this survival training, the men turned to the advice of the mountain men in the division. To prevent frostbite from claiming their feet, they were told to wake up another soldier and have him sit up while they put their feet against his warm stomach. The soldiers then traded places.
The ski troops were known for their white camouflage uniforms with hoods, dubbed “whites” by the soldiers. While not the high-tech ski clothes common today, 10th Mountain veterans reported that the white canvas uniforms got wet but still managed to keep them warm. Wool socks and clothing were standard issue
Camp Hale was a laboratory for testing new military gear specially engineered by the Army for its new ski troops. They had special rucksacks that could be attached to skis and serve as a toboggan for transporting injured soldiers. The Army designed a special multi-tasking ski boot that could be used for hiking, climbing, skiing or snowshoeing. While some of the gear would later become widely used commercially, some of the early prototypes were difficult to master. The boot bindings were so secure that if a soldier fell the wrong way, he broke his leg.