Camp Hale’s ‘second generation’ |

Camp Hale’s ‘second generation’

Members of the MCWTC came to Aspen in the mid-1950s for a public climbing demonstration on the sandstone walls of the Wheeler Opera House. (Courtesy Charles Paterson)

The U.S. Army guys who trained at Camp Hale during the 1950s aren’t as glamorous as their predecessors, the 10th Mountain Division troops who fought on skis during WWII and came back to forge the ski industry in the United States.However, the men of the Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command do comprise Camp Hale’s “second generation,” a group that went on from their training in the mountains near Leadville to become movers and shakers in the tradition of the 10th Mountain Division: Men like Chuck Lewis, who created Copper Mountain ski area, Bud Marolt (local boys Steve and Mike Marolt are relatives), who ran Loveland Ski School, and Jim Whitaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest in 1963. Many 1956 U.S. Olympic ski team members were among the Camp Hale crew, like Ralph Miller and Buddy Werner. Some, like Charlie Paterson and Peter Greene, went on to run landmark lodges and restaurants in Aspen. These “next generation” ski pioneers will hold a 50th reunion in Aspen, March 27-31. My father, Mark Addison, will be there. I’m proud he was a member of the Camp Hale Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command, or as he and his compatriots used to call it, “Mud and Cold Water Training.”The more I learn about it, the more I am in awe of these men.

My father was a greenie when he joined the military. He grew up in Chicago, riding the train tracks to art museums and climbing city park jungle gyms before he found himself making ski tracks and climbing rock faces for the Army. Although he and the men at Camp Hale wore similar uniforms as the 10th Mountain Division – white jackets, white pants and white muck lucks – they missed the Korean War and were lucky enough never to face combat. Instead, they were at Camp Hale to teach skiing, outdoor survival and rock climbing (at Fort Carson in the summer) to the Special Forces, men on clandestine assignments for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Not a bad assignment for someone being drafted into the Army.

“We just carried on what the 10th Mountain started,” said my father, who lives with my mother in Boulder and Summit County. He was at Camp Hale between 1955 and 1957. The Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command began in 1952 and ended in 1958. “As skiers, we led [Special Forces] into the backcountry and did a lot of cross-country ski touring and plodding along with rucksacks on our backs and camping out. We’d build snow caves, but most of the time we were happily in our tents.”Bill Brown was the first sergeant at Camp Hale Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command. A decorated war veteran, Brown was also in the 10th Mountain Division and served in both WWII and the Korean War. In a television documentary, he said, “We used to say that combat was easier than the training at Camp Hale.”Brown, 84, is currently in a Grand Junction hospital, but felt so strongly about his men from Camp Hale that he spoke via phone from his hospital bed. “It was very challenging training. A lot of kids came off the streets, and we taught them something other than concrete and asphalt; we taught them how to live off the land.” He asked the 50th reunion members to remember what happened if they overslept. “I turned over their cots and locked the barracks is what I did.” He added, “I kicked your father’s butt. I hope he kicked your butt too.”I assured him this was true, and that I eventually returned the favor by kicking his butt on the ski slope.Peter Greene, an Aspen real estate broker who arranged the 50th reunion, recalled that “Sergeant Brown was tough but fair. Even though we were always in trouble with Brown, I think he really loved us all.”Indeed he did. Said Brown, “In my 25 years in the Army and through two wars, I have to say these are the finest group of kids I have ever trained in my life. But they always tried to outsmart me, including Mr. Mark.”

Like many at Camp Hale, my father became prominent in the ski industry. He served as the president of the Rocky Mountain Ski Instructors Association (RMSIA), a predecessor of today’s PSIA (Professional Ski Instructor’s Association). In his earlier days he directed the Junior Ski Program at Lake Eldora Ski Area, where I was an involuntary member.Charlie Paterson, a good friend of my father’s, went on to open the Boomerang Lodge in Aspen and ran it for 50 years before he sold it in 2005. He came to Camp Hale in 1954 by way of a letter of recommendation from Freidl Pfeifer, a 10th Mountain Division member who was integral to Aspen’s postwar rebirth as a ski resort. Pfeifer wrote that Paterson, an Aspen ski instructor at the time, would be a far better candidate to teach skiing at Camp Hale than to be a cook in the infantry.

Regardless of the army atmosphere, the Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command was “a peaceful thing,” recalled Paterson, now 77. “We didn’t train for war – just once a year we had to fire with a rifle at a target. Otherwise, we just had ropes, skis and climbing equipment.”My father remembers well the “miserable little” Jamesway huts they slept in. “They were heated by oil stoves. Because of the many temperature inversions at Camp Hale, we had terrible smog from our oil stoves, so we couldn’t wait to climb and get out above the smog.”One smog-free time was when the Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command skied over Independence Pass to Aspen. “We stayed overnight at the Lost Man Campground,” said Paterson. “The next day we skied straight down to the Red Onion. Everyone had a jolly time.”The Red Onion, and Aspen in general, was one of the fonder memories for my dad. “Aspen was such the place to be,” he said. “Some of us stayed upstairs at the Red Onion, some at the Jerome, some would go see Steve Knowlton perform [musical parodies] at the Golden Horn.”Greene, now 74, worked for a time at the Red Onion as a maitre d’ for $150 a month. He also owned the Golden Horn for a few years, and even ran Bonnie’s restaurant on Aspen Mountain during the 1980s.

The history of Camp Hale is rooted in the famous 10th Mountain Division and the United States’ entry into World War II. The 10th Mountain Division trained at Camp Hale, where soldiers learned rock climbing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, winter survival and combat techniques throughout the winter of 1943-1944. The troops were deployed to Italy in 1945.The 10th was dissolved in 1945 after the war (only to be reborn in 1948 as a training division and later as an infantry division), and Camp Hale was deactivated as well. The high-altitude camp came back to life, however, as a military training facility during the years of the Korean War and the Cold War, until deactivation in 1965.

Today, Camp Hale is surrounded by hiking and snowmobile trails, backcountry huts, ski areas and acres of well-traveled public land. But memories of the “old days” linger. Although reunions have been few, the tight-knit camaraderie kept the men of the Mountain & Cold Weather Training Command in touch through all these years.”Because it was so small, some 60 men, it was like a college fraternity,” Greene said. “Many of us knew each other before we got into the service, and it was such a unique group of people. I have such a longtime relationship with them.” “These were an exceptional bunch of guys, really first-class people,” said my father, who is greatly anticipating the 50th reunion, which will be at the Boomerang Lodge. “It was character-building in the sense that if you’ve got someone on the other end of the rope, you learned you could rely on each other. It was the same for the backcountry – you learned that we should and could rely on each other. That’s the reason why we remained good friends throughout the years.”Brown won’t be able to attend, but barked over the phone like a sergeant, “I’d better get a roster of every one of those men who are going. Tell them I remember all their names.”Brown will be missed, but Greene plans on plenty of merriment. “We’ve got guys coming from all over the country. We’ll do a little skiing, have a little race, tell lies and stories, just do some reminiscing.”

Most of these guys still ski, their silver hair blending into the snowy background as they glide gracefully down the hill, perhaps more slowly than in their heyday. Heck, my father can still link turns on his telemark skis at the age of 72, and he only quit teaching skiing at Copper Mountain two years ago. He’s taught skiing for 50 years all over the Front Range.So, if you see a troop of leather-skinned men who look like the sun shines just for them, who act like “any day skiing is a good day skiing,” be it raining or winds blowing 40 mph, they’re likely to be the men of Camp Hale. When you see them, give them a salute, and have a great day skiing, on them.

Sources: 10th Mountain Division Association Inc.; “Camp Hale,” Metropolitan State College of Denver; and “The Last Ridge” a TV documentary on the 10th Mountain Division.Annie Addison is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in the midvalley with her husband and two sons.

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