Another tale from a ski trooper
In last week’s column I wrote that the 10th Mountain ski troopers never entered battle on skis. I neglected to say that some front-line troopers used skis during patrols.According to Gino Hollander, a former ski trooper who lives in Aspen, some troopers skied in Italy during the campaign on Mt. Belvedere. Hollander writes, “I was a sergeant with heavy weapons M CO. 86th and I personally went on three harrowing night patrols on skis to capture Germans for info getting …”Hollander explains that skis and camping equipment from Camp Hale were never sent to Italy, or at least never reached the troops. Skiers of the 10th Mountain provisioned themselves with enough commandeered German gear to put together a team of reconnaissance skiers.”In our first month on the line,” Hollander notes, “we were in very wet, cold foxholes, which received enemy shelling and sniper fire more or less continuously. Headquarters cooked up the ski patrols.”Hollander, as a sergeant in a heavy weapons company, would normally have stayed with the big guns. However, he was ordered to replace a lieutenant observer who had been killed.”I took the patrol … three nights in a weeklong period. There was such a feeling of defenselessness,” Hollander recalls. “The patrols were fortunate, with only four injured, none lost, and NO prisoners taken.”Enemy troops were also patrolling on skis, as Hollander describes. “The German Alpini that we encountered were on skis, too, and I’m sure they felt as we did … completely naked. Both sides retreated uphill to more covered positions … and then fired at will.”Hollander and his troops suffered for lack of the gear they had trained with at Camp Hale, gear they had counted on – mules, “weasel” snow cats, down sleeping bags, boots, skis, snowshoes. Still, the rugged training from Camp Hale paid off.”I, for one, found nothing overseas as hard as the four-day trek I took with 35 others (mostly recon guys, best of the best skiers and climbers) from Camp Hale to Aspen in early 1944. It was midwinter and we skied with full packs … the famed 90 pounds … with both skis and snowshoes, on and off, as we trudged (the only word).”Of all the stupid ideas …,” Hollander decries. “We were ordered to follow a straight azimuth to Aspen … meaning, of course, whatever terrain was on that straight line we went up and down, following it. Why go through a pass when you can go over whatever instead?”Hollander endured one of the greatest mountaineering feats in the history of Aspen: a no frills, no huts, no Gore-tex traverse from Camp Hale to the Hotel Jerome – about 30 miles as the crow flies. Through what is today the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness, they climbed over high ridges, floundered across deep drainages, and bushwhacked through thick forests – all of which doubled the distance. “As far as I know (What does a 19-year-old know?), no one was lost and all made it,” Hollander writes.When the ski troopers reached the Hotel Jerome, they were treated to an alcohol-laced milkshake fondly called The Aspen Crud. “It was superb,” Hollander remembers, “as were the five rooms we were quartered in.”While in Aspen, the troopers rode the old sled lift to the top of Roch Run and skied Aspen Mountain, then hitched a ride on a truck up past Midnight Mine and skied another run – all with their 90-pound packs.”So,” Hollander surmises, “despite the obvious and more or less constant concern (read ‘fear’) of a mortar or 88 shell or snipers sitting with you in their sights, nothing in Italy came close to this Hale-to-Aspen trek for me … nothing in life, in all of my life. Ski heil!”Paul Andersen is grateful for the clarification. His column appears on Mondays.
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