The Nazi-Fighting Winter Soldiers Who Taught America to Ski

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tags: military history, Colorado, World War 2

With a wintertime three-day weekend coming up for many Americans, the country’s ski slopes are sure to be slammed with schussers.

But while many of those athletes may be familiar with military uses of skis, as demonstrated by James Bond, they may not know just how close their own hobby is to that history. In fact, many of America’s ski resorts were started by soldiers who skied during World War II — a group that played a key role in the sport’s popularity in the United States. 

Many came from the 10th Mountain Division, which was the only U.S. military unit whose wartime skills were turned into a popular civilian pastime, according to historian Maurice Isserman, a professor of History at Hamilton College and author of the forthcoming The Winter Army: The World War II Odyssey of the 10th Mountain Division, America’s Elite Alpine Warriors. It was also, he says, the only military unit started because citizens lobbied for it: Prominent skiers and climbers called for an American version of the German, Italian and Finnish mountain and ski troops. The National Ski Patrol recruited the skiers, and became known as the only civilian group designated as a U.S. Army recruiting agency. All in all, about 8,000 skiers, forest rangers and outdoorsmen were recruited, according to John Imbrie, a 10th Mountain Division veteran who has written on the subject.

In one of their more harrowing feats, they scaled Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere in the Northern Apennines in Italy in February of 1945 and surprised the Germans, who didn’t think anyone would actually make the trek because it was so arduous. It was key to opening up an offensive that, over the next three months, led the troops to the Alps. 

When they came back, they wanted to keep skiing.

Read entire article at Time

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