Ski historians credit Charles Minot Dole with the formation of the National Ski Patrol and the 10th Mountain Division. The story begins with a broken ankle, incurred while skiing with friends at a Vermont ski area. His ski buddies, with the help of some tin roofing, created a makeshift sled and delivered him down the mountain to safety.
Tragically, a few months later, one of his friends was killed in a ski race. This inspired Dole to create the Mount Mansfield volunteer ski patrol, which later became the National Ski Patrol.
In his book titled Adventures in Skiing , Dole describes a ground-breaking, impromptu meeting held in the tiny lodge at Bromley Mountain ski area in Vermont. The gathering took place in February of 1940. Dole writes, “Looking back, each member of the quartet could legitimately be called a founding father of the new sport of skiing in America.”
The group included National Ski Association president Rodger Langley, who held the first alpine competitions in 1933; Harvard graduate Robert Livermore, who had raced on the Olympic team in 1936; Alex Bright, an influential leader of the Boston Ski Club, and finally Minnie Dole , as he was called, himself.
After a few drinks, conversation turned to the Russo-Finnish War. In November of 1939, the Russians, armed with 70 divisions and thousands of tanks, launched an attack on Finland. Highly-trained military ski troops, however, formed the small but powerful Finnish military, and allowed them to hold steadfast against the invaders. Dole and friends worried that during mountain warfare, the US troops would not stand a chance against Hitler’s infamous mountain troops – the “Jaeger” battalions.
This realization prompted Dole to contact President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and urge them to train and develop mountain warfare divisions. After much resistance to the idea, they finally agreed. Members of the ski patrol, expert ski racers, and European skiers fleeing the Nazis were the original members of the 10th Mountain Division.
In 1942, the 87th Regiment of the 10th arrived in Camp Hale, which was located near Vail, Colorado. Help with the recruitment process came from, of all places, Hollywood. Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox Studios, was an avid recreational skier. After producing Sun Valley Serenade, he decided to make a film about the latest techniques in ski instruction.
Hoping that the film would give troops a paradigm to follow, the 87th allowed five of its best skiers to be in the film. Zanuck asked Otto Lang, one of the first ski instructors from St. Anton to come to the US, to direct the film. Ski filmmaker John Jay assisted the production. For the action sequences, Lang put anoraks and caps on his 10 best instructors. One of these was Fred Iselin, who would eventually become the director of the Ski Schools of Aspen.
The film, called The Basic Principles of Skiing, featured Alan Ladd as a fictional 10th Mountain Division recruit. Although military recruitment was not the producer’s main purpose, its glamor and drama had that effect. The word was out. Skiing is sexy.
As such, film crews flocked to Camp Hale to capitalize on the charisma of soldiers on skis. In 1944, Paulette Goddard and Sonny Tufts starred in I Love a Soldier, a film that examined the problems of wartime marriages. Paramount used members of the 10th for the action sequences of this film.
Skiing sexy during the post-war years, and former 10th Mountain Division members took advantage of the infatuation. They developed ski resorts, started ski magazines, developed new ski techniques and opened ski shops.
Here are just a few examples of ski-related businesses started by 10th Mountain Division veterans:
1. Max Dercum, Larry Jump, Thor Groswold, and Dick Durrance formed Arapahoe Basin Inc. CO., in 1946.
2. Gordy Wren managed Loveland Basin and then Steamboat Springs.
3. Gerry Cunningham opened Gerry’s Mountain Sports, in Denver.
4. Merrill Hastings published Skiing Magazine in Denver.
5. Fritz Benedict, the influential mountain architect, founded the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Hut System in Colorado.
6. Bil Dunaway made the first ski descent of Mount Blanc in France on skis, then settled in Aspen Colorado, becoming editor of Skiing Magazine.
7. Clif Taylor taught skiing at Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Mad River Glen, Loveland, and Winter Park. He created the Graduated Length Method of ski instruction.
8. John P. Litchfield started the Aspen Ski School where he became Co-Director. John was also an original investor in the Aspen Ski Company as well as the original owner and operator of the famous Red Onion Restaurant in Aspen.
9. Alf Engen directed the ski school at Alta, Utah.
10. Jack Murphy founded Sugarbush, Vermont
11. Friedl Pfeifer expanded the ski resort at Aspen.
12. Peter Seibert founded Vail.
For a larger list, and an extremely detailed article on this topic, check out this piece by Robert Burne Donald.