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Hal Burton - The Ski Troops
The material in this book on the formation and early organization of the 10th Mountain Division is probably based on jay-1944.

Chapter 1 - The Lonely Places

p. 10: The author describes early ski warfare in Scandinavia.

p. 11: In 1908 Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, France and Finland took part in the first International Military Patrol Race on skis.

p. 13: The author describes mountain warfare in the Dolomites during World War I.

p. 19b: On 30 November 1939, Russia attacked Finland. Despite being greatly outnumbered, Finnish troops, fighting in white uniforms and moving on skis, defeated Russian forces repeatedly. An American, David T. Bradley of Wisconsin, served with the Finnish Army as an observer, returning his comments on ski troops to the U.S. War Department. Eventually the Russians changed strategy and overwhelmed the Finns, who signed a peace treaty on 13 March 1940 ceding key territory to the Russians.

Chapter 2 - The Age of Innocents

p. 25: The growth of American skiing occurred in two phases. In 1887 the first ski jumping tournament in America was held at Red Wing, Minnesota and won by a Norwegian named Mikkel Hemmestvedt. Until the 1930s, with few exceptions, American skiing consisted of ski jumping and cross-country ski racing.

The second phase was the growth of downhill skiing, which accelerated in the 1930s. The 1932 Lake Placid Olympics acted as the seedbed for downhill skiing in America. In 1936, the U.S. fielded a men's ski team, including downhill skiers, at the third Winter Games at Garmish-Partenkirchen. Dick Durrance of Darthmouth placed tenth in the combined results.

p. 26: In the 1930s, wooden skis with steel edges were beginning to appear along with rigid metal toeplates. In the mid-30s, cable bindings became available. Ski wax, essential to climb reasonably steep slopes without slipping and slide down without sticking, was a constant challenge.

p. 27: "All of these tangibles and intangibles--the mystery of mountains and snow, the demands of physical strength and emotional courage, the sense of newness, the specialized equipment--produced an inner core of American skiers with unparalleled devotion to the sport. They gave skiing a motive and purpose it has never lost, even in an era of mechanization when millions ski."

p. 28: On the east coast, ski clubs hunted for mountains with reliable snow where trails could be cleared. The first rope tow in North America opened in 1932 at Shawbridge, in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. The first in the U.S. was installed in 1934 on Gilbert's Hill near Woodstock, Vermont. By 1937 there were rope tows on many slopes throughout the country.

p. 29: During the Depression the railroads began looking for excursion business and found it in the snow country, establishing ski trains to many locations. "Skiing now commanded all the basic ingredients of success: uphill transportation, fast train service, and trails down the mountains."

p. 30: By 1928, Otto Schniebs, a former mountain trooper in Germany's WWI army, was teaching skiing to members of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Probably the first organized American ski school was at Peckett's at Sugar Hill, New Hampshire in 1929, which offered the official Austrian technique taught by Kurt Thalhammer and Sig Buchmayr. By 1930, the Dartmouth Outing Club had hired Schniebs as coach.

p. 33: The author describes the Arlberg technique, developed by Hannes Schneider in Austria. Schneider arrived in America in 1939, after being taken into custody by the Nazis and freed in a deal made by Harvey Dow Gibson of New York.

p. 35: The author describes Toni Matt's schuss of Tuckerman Ravine on Mt Washington.

p. 36: The first T-bar in America was installed in 1936 at Pico Peak, Vermont. The first chair lift was installed at Sun Valley, Idaho in the late 1930s.

Chapter 3 - The Age of Maecenas

p. 39a: Describing the development of mechanized ski areas beginning in the mid-1930s, the author writes, "The thrill of accomplishment in having climbed a mountain, accompanied by a long rest on the summit to savor the scenery, disappeared forever from skiing."

p. 39b: The author describes the siting, construction and promotion of Sun Valley, ID by Averell Harriman of the Union Pacific railroad. This chapter describes the role of wealthy patrons in developing areas throughout the U.S., among them Fred Pabst in the mid-west, Harvey Dow Gibson at North Conway, NH, Walt Disney at Sugar Bowl, CA, Joe Ryan at Mt Tremblant, Quebec, and Roland Palmedo at Stowe, VT.

p. 40: "The Pacific Coast peaks were buried under a tremendous tonnage of snow during a long winter season, but it was heavy, wet snow of almost concrete consistency. For months on end the mountains were under the clouds."

Chapter 4 - Quite by Accident

p. 52: Charles Minot Dole was a Connecticut insurance broker. In 1936 he broke his leg while skiing at Stowe, VT. His complicated rescue and long convalescence started him thinking about how to better care for skiers injured on a mountainside. Roland Palmedo had already begun encouraging ski clubs to organize ski patrols. In 1937, following the death of a mutual friend while skiing, Palmedo appointed Dole as chairman of a local committee to study the safety of skiing. Dole was assisted by John E.P. Morgan.

p. 58: In 1938, during the National Downhill Championships at Stowe, Roger Langley, president of the National Ski Association suggested that Dole become chairman of a national ski patrol committee. Dole accepted the job and served as director of the National Ski Patrol until 1950. Dr. L.M. Thompson of the Red Cross was the first medical officer of the National Ski Patrol System (NSPS).

p. 61: During WWII, following the crash of a Navy bomber on a remote mountain in the Cascades, Ome Daiber led six ski patrolmen for two days to reach the plane. Since the Navy had reported live bombs aboard, Daiber left his men a safe distance away, scrambled down to the plane, and deactivated the bombs. The full patrol loaded the bodies of the dead crew onto toboggans and dragged them to civilization for burial.

p. 62: Later in WWII, Operation May Day coordinated 24 ski patrols along the west coast, in search and rescue work for the Fourth Air Force. Whenever a plane went down, all patrols in the area were notified and the patrol closest to the accident went to the rescue.

Chapter 5 - Pursuit of the Impossible

p. 63: In February 1940, Alec Bright, Charles Minot Dole, Roger Langley and Robert L. Livermore discussed the need for American troops trained in winter warfare. Their concern, inspired by the Russo-Finnish war, was that the northeast coast of the U.S. might be invaded in winter. Unknown to them, the War Department was already thinking along similar lines. Langley sent a letter to the War Department offering the services of the National Ski Association, but the offer was rebuffed.

p. 67: In June 1940, Dole sent a circular letter to the 93 patrols of the National Ski Patrol System asking permission to offer their services to the War Department. The Army had begun ski training on a small scale, and Capt. Ridgely Gaither in the War Department's Plans and Training Section (G-3) was looking into the matter of special troops that might be used in exotic places. Dole and John Morgan traveled to Washington and offered the services of the National Ski Patrol as scouts or guides in the event of a winter invasion.

p. 78: In November 1940, the War Department agreed to a voluntary arrangement in which the National Ski Patrol would "become fully familiar with local terrain; to locate existing shelter and to experiment with means of shelter, such as light tents, which may be found suitable for the sustained field operations of military ski patrol units; to perfect an organization prepared to furnish guides to the Army in event of training or of actual operations in the local areas; and to cooperate with and extend into inaccessible areas the antiaircraft and antiparachute warning services." A separate directive ordered the establishment of ski patrols in five Army divisions stationed in northern states. Ridgely Gaither (now a Colonel) was assigned as director of a Winter Warfare Board.

p. 79: The office of the Quartermaster General began testing and developing clothing and material for winter operations. Robert H. Bates, a civilian alpinist, was the first expert summoned. He was soon joined by Albert H. Jackman, a captain in the Army reserve, and John H. Tappin, a civilian. The National Ski Association formed a winter equipment committee headed by Bestor Robinson and including Alfred M. Lindley, Douglas Burckett, Walter A. Wood and Peter Hostmark of Seattle.

The author estimates that before WWII, the number of skiers in the country who could "live out of their packs for many days on expeditions into rough country, in all kinds of weather" probably numbered only a few hundred. Equipment suitable for the rough usage of the military was not available. He describes the state of knowledge of winter warfare. Adams Carter, a civilian alpinist and translator, turned manuals from the European mountain armies into English.

p. 82: By late summer 1941, through the combined efforts of the NSA Equipment Committee and the office of the Quartermaster General, specifications had been approved for ski equipment, clothing and camping equipment for mountain troops. The work had been supported by field experiments by Bestor Robinson, Paul Lafferty and others in the High Sierra, and by Robert Bates and Albert Jackman in the Yukon.

Chapter 7 - Growing Pains

p. 84: In autumn 1940 the Army ordered winter training for the six northern divisions across the country, including the 3rd and 41st Divisions at Fort Lewis, WA. The objective was to set up ski patrols that could serve as the eyes for road-bound divisions--a compromise based upon what the Finns had done in fighting the Russians.

p. 88a: During the winter of 1940-41, eighteen men from the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division spent a month and a half on the flanks of Mt Rainier. Capt. Paul R. Lafferty, former University of Oregon ski coach, was technical adviser. Lt. John B. Woodward, a University of Washington ski racer, was chief instructor. Though practically none of the trainees had previous experience on skis, they completed a circumnavigation of Rainier, crossing half a dozen of its glaciers, passing through avalanche country, on a trip that took them two weeks. [Note: My conversations with John Woodward indicate that this was not a complete circumnavigation, but instead a series of trips on various sides of the mountain.]

p. 88b: At the end of February 1941, the 41st Division ski patrol, trained by Sgt. Karl Hinderman, a professional instructor and former racer, crossed the Olympic Mountains from west to east--up the Quinault River and down the Dosewalips River, a distance of forty miles. Some of the men had been issued skis without steel edges. These splintered and the edges became so rounded that soldiers "could scarcely make a turn without sliding off the trail."

p. 88c: Following the Olympic Mountains crossing, the 41st Division ski patrol spent two-weeks skiing along the northern end of the Olympics, an area rarely visited in winter. Eight men were sent back to Fort Lewis, but eighteen officers and men completed the trip.

p. 89a: The High Sierra ski trip by Paul Lafferty and Bestor Robinson took place in April 1941.

p. 89b: In April 1941, the Army along with the U.S. Forest Service began studying high-altitude sites in the west for a camp to house 15,000 men. Pando, Colorado was eventually chosen for the site of Camp Hale. On p. 91 the author describes the arguments that raged within the War Department during this time about the urgency of the need to create a mountain division.

p. 92: On 15 November 1941, the 1st Battalion (Reinforced) 87th Infantry Mountain Regiment was activated at Fort Lewis, Washington, less than a month before Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Chapter 8 - "Minnie's Ski Troops"

p. 94: During the winter of 1941-42 the Army began recruiting in earnest for the 87th Mountain Infantry. The National Ski Patrol was designated as the official recruiting agency. Prospective draftees who wanted to join the 87th had to fill out a questionnaire and submit three letters of recommendation.

p. 96: Following p. 96 are photos of troops training above Paradise Inn on Rainier.

p. 100a: "Then began the song and story period of the mountain troops, for Colonel Rolfe received permission to lease Paradise Lodge and Tatoosh Lodge, two government hotels at 5,000 feet elevation in Mt Rainier National Park, just sixty-two miles from the fort. Skiing started from the second-floor windows. The snow depth ran twenty to thirty feet"

"It was Paradise that sold the mountain troops: pictures of tanned soldiers in white camouflage suits, with the great white ice cream cone of Rainier rising behind them, with miles of open downhill running."

p. 100b: The 87th Mountain Infantry Glee Club included John C. Jay, a lineal descendant of the first Chief Justice, and Ralph Bromaghin, a Sun Valley ski instructor.

p. 101: In July 1942, five officers and forty men were delivered to the Columbia Icefields in a secret project to help Studebaker test a new oversnow vehicle known as the Weasel.

p. 103: In late 1942 or early 1943 rock climbing schools were conducted at Camp Hale, near Colorado Springs and at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.

p. 105: New equipment developed for the mountain troops included laminated skis, release bindings, "bunny boots", rucksacks, mountain pants, jackets, stoves, sleeping bags and combined ski-mountain boots with cleated rubber Bramani soles. Most important for post-war climbing was the development of nylon ropes.

Chapter 9 - No Japs at All

Describes the ill-fated operation on Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands.

Chapter 10 - Of Men and Mules

p. 120: A sign over the corral at North Fort Lewis, Washington read, "Through these portals pass the most beautiful mules in the world." Officers who came to ski had to learn to ride. When thrown by a mule (a regular occurrence) they had to write down the reason in a log book at the stables. "Caught an edge," was the excuse offered by Lt. John C. Jay.

p. 122: On 6 December 1942 the 87th Mountain Infantry moved to Camp Hale, CO. The author describes many problems with Hale as a training site. In early spring Army Engineers built an artificial glacier in a nearby valley to support snow and ice climbing instruction.

p. 127: Ben Thompson was in the mountain troops. On p. 104 the author mentions that Thompson was a Lieutenant.

Chapter 11 - How Like a God

p. 135: The author describes poor morale at Camp Hale in spring 1943.

p. 138: Lieutenant Monty Atwater wrote Dole: "A lot of our best skiers, who have been in the Army long enough to know better, still haven't got it through their heads that, from a military standpoint, skis are a means of taking firepower to places you can't take it on foot. No more, no less. It's a sad commentary on two winters of work that we still can't take out a unit the size of a battalion or a regiment and move it over the snow the way it should be done."

p. 139: On 22 June 1944, the 10th Division, composed of the 85th, 86th and 87th Regiments, was transferred to Camp Swift, Texas.

p. 141: On 7 November 1944, the 10th became the 10th Mountain Division.

Chapter 12 - Even the Doughnut Girl Was a Skier

p. 142: In January 1945, the 10th Mountain Division was moved to Italy.

p. 148: In late January and early February the division sent out three ski patrols, one on snowshoes. By mid-February the snow had thawed so much that all the fighting took place on foot. Skis were not used again during the war. One patrol, from the 86th Infantry Regiment, included Lt. Donald Traynor, Sgt. Steve Knowlton, Cpl. Harry Brandt, Pfc. Cragg Gilbert and Pfc. Harvey Slater. The patrol covered twenty miles in twenty-two hours, two days faster than had been allotted.

p. 149: The division's intended role was to roll the Germans back through the Dolomites to the Brenner Pass while Patton's 7th Army pushed southeast from the Rhine, down the Danube, and into Innsbruck from the other side of the Alps. The key to beginning this push was to take Mt Belvedere and its outlying peaks.

Chapter 13 - The Most Unlikely Way to Fight

p. 153: During the first two weeks of February 1945, patrols scouted routes up Riva Ridge, a hill overlooking Mt Belvedere.

p. 155: On the morning of February 19, the 86th Regiment attacked and took Riva Ridge.

p. 159: On the night of February 19, the 85th and 87th Regiments attacked and took Mt Belvedere.

p. 163: On February 24, the 86th Regiment attacked and took Mt Della Torraccia.

p. 164: On March 3-5, the 10th advanced four miles toward the Po valley. Sgt. Torger Tokle, a champion ski jumper, was killed during this period.

Chapter 14 - Over the River and into the Alps

p. 170: From April 14-23, the 10th advanced toward Bologna and the Po River.

p. 177: On April 24, the 10th crossed the Po River and on the following day advanced to Varona.

p. 181: On April 27, the 10th reached the shores of Lake Garda at the foothills of the Alps.

p. 182: On April 29, a truce was signed. The 10th occupied the city of Merano and the Adige Valley as far as Resia Pass.

p. 183: On 20 October 1945, the 10th Mountain Division was disbanded at Camp Carson, Colorado Springs.

Chapter 15 - It Was a Famous Victory

p. 187: The author describes the role of 10th Mountain veterans in establishing American ski resorts following the war, including Aspen, Vail, Sugarbush, Whiteface and Crystal Mountain, WA. Ed Link and Roe Duke Watson are credited with creating Crystal Mtn.

p. 188: Surplus mountain equipment became cheaply and widely available after World War II. The author estimates that 100,000 pairs of skis and ski-mountain boots, close to 150,000 pairs of mountain pants and parkas, hundreds of thousands of pitons and more than a hundred other items including ice axes, steel-framed rucksacks, gas stoves and nylon tents were produced for the mountain troops.


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Last Updated: Fri Feb 28 10:56:40 PST 2003