My father, Peter, rarely talked about the war. One winter day in 1989, he called me and asked me to drive him to Camp Hale. Once there, he put a heavy rucksack on his back, put on his skis and left for the Jackal Hut, all alone. Perhaps he sought the solace of the mountains; or reliving memories of the place that sowed its destiny. I often wonder what it was like for the other lodge guests when Pete Seibert joined them for the night.
In early 1942, the Army built Camp Hale south of Red Cliff to train fighters in mountain warfare. The 10th Mountain was a different bunch: skiers recruited from Ivy League colleges, refugees and ski greats from northern Europe, boys from Georgia who had never seen snow. Seduced by the glamorous idea of being a fighting mountain skier, they came with the spirit of adventure and patriotism.
Their heroism, victories and sacrifices during the three-month assault that broke enemy lines in northern Italy are infamous. They silently scaled a steep 2,000 foot rock cliff in the middle of the night to surprise and defeat enemy troops atop a mountain called Riva Ridge. They defeated enemy units attached to the road by traveling across the country to cut off the enemy. They built miniature ski trams to evacuate their wounded from mountain tops. For the troops of the 10th Mountain, then and now, the impossible does not exist.
Although Pete carried his battle scars all his life, what he really brought back from the war was a different kind of spirit – a spirit that knew no bounds. This attitude, coupled with a love of the outdoors from years of mountain training at Camp Hale, helped make snow sports and outdoor recreation what it is today.
Earl Eaton, who had helped build Camp Hale, showed Pete the mountain that would become Vail. Pete, Earl, and other 10th Mountain veterans like Jack Tweedy, Ben Duke, and later Sarge Brown and Bob Parker, brought their pioneering attitude to Vail. They carved the station out of a peaceful sheep pasture in six months.
It had taken only seven months to build the entire Camp Hale, thus building The Lodge at Vail, MidVail, three ski lifts; open the vast bowls and cut the tracks – the one they named Riva Ridge – in six months? No problem.
No snow the first year? No problem. They brought some native Utes for a snow dance, and it snowed.
No skiers? Bob Parker fixed this. Similar scenarios of ingenious creation were playing out across the country as Americans stepped out, led and inspired by many veterans of the 10th Mountain Division.
This is Vail’s legacy and our legacy for future generations. It is the spirit that has helped build our country and our community. Today we can support a new national monument that commemorates the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division. I believe the founders of Vail would say, “Yes! We can do it!”
Please join me in supporting the designation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. Learn more and sign the petition today at coreact.com.
Pete Seibert Jr. came to Vail in 1962 as a young boy when his father founded the Vail Ski Area. He currently serves on the Vail City Council.