If You Like to Ski, Thank a Veteran
Miners may have settled the mountains, but veterans conquered them.
I love to ski. I get out every couple weeks but not nearly as much as I would like to. I like to think that I’m good skier but I’ve seen people who are actually good do things on skis that I wouldn’t even have thought possible.
I grew up in the Midwest where nobody skis or rides. Wintertime in the Midwest just meant a lot of bare trees and dead grass. There just weren’t too many outdoor activities. There wasn’t enough snow for a lot of snow sports and there weren’t very many hills big enough to do much more then sled down.
It was a shock when I moved to Colorado. Here, wintertime is fun. There is stuff to do. Many people here are actually more active in the wintertime then in the summer. When it snows, people get excited. At home they would have been annoyed. It’s amazing what a few ski areas can do. We are lucky here to have so many different ski areas to choose from, and the big resorts make it as easy as possible to have fun here in the mountains too, for a price of course.
I went to Beaver Creek this weekend to enjoy some of their 14 inches of powder. The really good crunchy gnar sauce pow pow that Colorado is famous for. If you have never been to Beaver Creek before I would recommend it. There is an escalator that takes you right to the bottom of the lift. People walk around and hand out free warm chocolate chip cookies. There is a free champagne toast and even a free keg of beer (it doesn’t last very long). I ate at a restaurant that had a house magician that came around and did magic tricks at your table while you wait for your food. It’s pretty luxurious. It wasn’t always that way though.
It’s hard to imagine today but many of today’s ski areas owe their beginnings to veterans. In fact, the sport itself is as big as it is today due to a hand full of veterans from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Ski resorts like Vail and Aspen would not be here otherwise. Aspen was a dying silver town, Vail didn’t even exist. It wasn’t until a few determined veterans developed them into ski areas that the sport took off.
During the winter of 1939, Russia decided to invade Finland. Russia invaded with 1.5 million men, 6,541 tanks, and 3,800 airplanes. Finland had only 250,000 men, 30 tanks, and 130 aircraft. The Finns were greatly outgunned and outnumbered. It looked like it would be a quick victory. But those crazy Finns could ski. The Russian army relied on heavy vehicles that did poorly in the snow while the Finnish army trained on skis and were perfectly suited for winter combat.
Russia suffered embarrassing loses. 226,875 Russians were killed, 264,908 were wounded, 5,600 were captured, and over 400,000 were never seen again and were presumed dead. Finland had 30 tanks; they captured or destroyed 2,268 tanks. Needless to say, it was largely one-sided and people here in America were watching.
America decided that it too needed soldiers trained on skis; soldiers who were perfectly suited for mountain warfare. We had the 10th Mountain Division, but they trained in Kansas. That was about to change. Camp Hale, an area just south of Vail between the towns of Redcliff and Leadville, became the new home of the 10th. They found an ideal area to train nearby; an area that had snow six months out of the year. You know it today as Ski Cooper. Soldiers would walk to the top and ski down. 4,000 soldiers in two years were trained to shoot while skiing down the side of a mountain with packs on their backs. That would be hard do to even with today’s gear much less 1940’s era ski gear.
After WWII a few of those veterans returned here to the mountains. They started ski schools and opened ski resorts. Prior to WWII, skiing wasn’t a very popular sport here in America. After WWII however, skiing became very popular. The military and few motivated veterans were responsible for that. It was a veteran that turned Aspen Mountain into a ski resort. It was a veteran that turned a ranch in Eagle County into the town of Vail.
I was surprised when I moved here that there were so many veterans here. I’m not sure why, but the mountains just seem to appeal to us. Five years ago, CMC had only a handful of veterans; today it has well over a hundred. Five years from now, that number is expected to double. It’s appropriate though. It was veterans that made this area what it today and it’s a place that for some reason still calls to us.
The veterans here today aren’t just skiing though. Veterans here at Colorado Mountain College are raft guides and EMT’s. We are climbing mountains and guiding your fishing trips. There are student veterans making sure your water is clean and building habitat for wildlife. There are even a few working at the ski resorts making sure others enjoy skiing as much as we do.
Three years ago I found an advertisement for CMC randomly one night while surfing the internet in a cyber café on COB Speicher in Iraq. Little did I know that it would change the course of my life. Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made. I like it here. I’m not sure why the mountains appeal to us veterans, but Im glad I came. I’m also glad that CMC and the GI Bill made it so easy for me to come here. So what brought you here?