President Biden designates a new Camp Hale—Continental Divide National Monument.
On October 12, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation establishing the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument. In his first use of the Antiquities Act to create a new national monument, Biden recognized this storied Colorado landscape’s importance to the history of the Ute Indian Tribe, and also to the training of the 10th Mountain Division, America’s legendary force of Ivy League outdoorsman, mountain climbers, expatriate ski instructors, and Olympians who in World War II played a critical—and costly—role in defeating the Germans.
High on the winding road of US 24 between Leadville and Minturn, some would say Camp Hale is the cradle of American skiing. As I wrote of the 10th in my novel The God of Skiing, “In Italy they fought like hell to take Belvedere and Riva Ridge from the Nazis when no one thought they could be taken—after full battalions of allied troops had tried for months already to take them. They advanced in the dark, scaling the bare vertical stones of Riva with their ropes and rifles, or sliding through mud and fog toward Belvedere as grenades and bullets rained down in the morning. Champion ski jumper Torger Tokle was one of the dozens killed. Friedl Pfiefer, the godfather of Aspen, spent the rest of his life with German metal inside him.
“Those that survived, like Pete Seibert, Bob Parker, David Brower, Paul Petzoldt and Bob Dole, came home and spread like messiah’s to America’s mountains. They built its ski resorts, its politics and environmental ethics, and the world’s new standards and methods for ski instruction.”
Or as Biden’s press release announcing the designation says, “The rugged landscape of Camp Hale – Continental Divide serves as a testament to a pivotal moment in America’s military history, as these peaks and valleys forged the elite soldiers of the famed 10th Mountain Division — the Army’s first and only mountain infantry division — that helped liberate Europe in World War II. The area lies within the ancestral homelands of the Ute Tribes, along the Continental Divide in north-central Colorado, and is treasured for its historical and spiritual significance, stunning geological features, abundant recreation opportunities, and rare wildlife and plants. The area’s mountains and valleys also shaped our modern outdoor recreation economy, which today supports millions of American jobs.”
As a kid, my parents would take my brother and me to hike around the old haunts of Camp Hale, and we would run around like we were on the ghost strewn battlefield of some Rocky Mountain war that actually took place in Europe, filling our pockets with shell casings. It was only later when I actually had the opportunity to meet some of these legends, that I realized how humble they were, and how human.
In Santa Fe once, I sat down with Parker, who told me, “If you are skiing, you are living,” and teared up remembering the names of his comrades who never came back home. And any time after that whenever I saw a veteran of the 10that some ski industry confab, I made a point of walking up and shaking their hand and thanking them.
In Vail (a resort which Seibert built on his memories of Europe) at Ski Industry Week, I met two 10th vets at the back of the breakfast buffet queue and asked, “Is this the end of the line?”
“It was,” they laughed, looking over their shoulders at me riding caboose. A joke I realized at the time was 60 years in the making. Here’s to a place that brought life and community to so many generations.
Photo: Three 10th Mountain Division skitroopers above Camp Hale, Colorado in February, 1944. Courtesy Phil O’Rourke/Wikimedia Commons