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Area History


World War II is responsible for the development of skiing in the area. After the German army's elite mountain troops—the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Gebirgsjaeger Corps—began to destroy the Polish Army in 1939, two American ski groups—the National Ski Association and the National Ski Patrol—had grave concerns about the American military's lack of preparation for mountain warfare. The German "Jaeger" mountain battalions, with skilled ski troops, went on to invade Norway and Denmark in 1940. The same year, Minot Dole, one of the founders of the National Ski Patrol approached Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with the idea of forming special mountain fighting units.

Before America entered the Second World War, the Climax-Fremont Pass area was recommended for its reliable snow conditions. Although there was no tow in 1940, cross-country and rugged alpine skiers of the day enjoyed the vast variety of open slopes and timber runs.

By the winter of 1942 the War Department had authorized the National Ski Patrol to recruit volunteers for the 87th Mountain Infantry, men who would be specifically trained to fight (and survive) on any terrain, in any weather.

In April of 1942, construction of Camp Hale at Pando, near Leadville, was in progress. On November 16, 1942, the U.S. Army's Mountain Training Center moved from Camp Carson in Colorado Springs to Camp Hale. A steady stream of new recruits were now arriving in camp to train in mountain warfare and complete the formation of the 10th Light Division (Pack, Alpine).

With temperatures dropping to 50 below, the men of "The 10th" trained with machine guns and artillery in the snow laden mountains and rugged terrain surrounding Camp Hale. More than 8,000 men had skiing instruction on the T-bar at Cooper Hill (now Ski Cooper) and the four rope tows near camp.

Even though the training was physically demanding, and at times difficult, "The 10th" was almost entirely an all volunteer force. Thanks in part to the efforts of John Jay, a ski film producer and Army Public Relations Officer, men were waiting in line to enlist in "The 10th" after viewing Jay's Ski Patrol recruiting movie and reading articles about "America's ski troops" in publications throughout the country.

After serving gallantly in the Aleutian Islands and Italy, the 10th Mountain Division was deactivated on November 30, 1945, but was reactivated on February 13, 1985 at Fort Drum, New York. In the past 50 years, more than 34 books have been written about "The 10th." For a list of published and unpublished manuscripts contact: The 10th Mountain Division Resource Center, Denver Public Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver, CO 80204.

In 1949, "The Where to Ski" guidebook had this to say about Cooper Hill: "This is the Camp Hale T-bar lift of 10th Mountain Division fame, serves expert trail 1¾ mile long, also seven intermediate and novice trails 6000 to 8000-ft long; open slopes are two miles long. Lift rates: $1.25. Group lessons in the Arlberg technique are free."

Nearby was the Climax ski area with a state of the art Constam T-bar serving three trails. For two nights each week, the slopes were lit for night skiing. Ski school students at Climax learned the Norwegian ski technique rather than the Arlberg. The hot spots to stay in 1949 were the Hotel Vendome ($3.50 per night), Hotel Delaware, Liberty Hotel and the Quincy Hotel at $1 per night.

Today, Ski Cooper is a commercial ski area with 26 trails spread across 385 skiable acres. The base elevation is 10,500-ft and the summit another 1,200 feet higher, so excellent natural snow conditions are all but guaranteed. In addition to two surface lifts, one double and one triple chair, Ski Cooper also offers Snocat skiing on Chicago Ridge. For ski history buffs, Ski Cooper is a historically significant site to visit, and of course, to make turns on some of the same trails the men of the 10th Mountain Division did during their World War II combat training.

*Written by: Paul McMorris - a contributing editor for Skiing Magazine.