Kramer: Keeping the 10th Mountain legacy alive

Nancy Kramer
Guest Commentary
The CORE Act proposes creating a national historic landscape around Camp Hale, shown above. The area was used for training for the famed 10th Mountain Division during World War II.
Mason Cummings/The Wilderness Society

It is an honor for Colorado that Pres. Biden chose Camp Hale for his first new national monument designation.

In a high mountain valley near Leadville, Colorado, the camp was built to train qualified volunteers and recruits for a unique role in bringing World War II to an end. These courageous 10th Mountain Division soldiers learned to fight in mountain terrain, all while skiing and climbing fully-armed.

These skills were put to the test in early 1945, when the 10th broke the Gothic Line, Germany’s last defense in the Italian Apennine Mountains. The heroic ski troopers took heavy casualties but never lost a battle in three months of intense fighting. They overwhelmed the opposition and captured 15,000 prisoners of war. 

Notably, the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument includes nearly 54,000 acres of mountain terrain where the ski troopers ran maneuvers and learned their specialized brand of mountain warfare. The ridges, peaks, and valleys not only honed their athletic and soldier skills, but also deepened their intrinsic love and appreciation for the splendor and beauty of the mountainous outdoors.

After the war, the 10th Mountain Division ski troopers imparted their skills to influence the nation’s ski and outdoor-recreation industry, starting Colorado ski areas like Arapahoe Basin and Vail. They taught skiing, inspired new generations of skiers, and innovated advances in climbing gear and outdoor clothing. They directly impacted the rapid growth of the outdoor-recreation industry, which today contributes $19 billion to Colorado’s economy. 

My father was a member of the elite 10th Mountain Division. The designation of this national monument holds deep, personal meaning for me and other descendants, as well as our modern-day 10th Mountain Division Light Infantry war fighters as a growing number have returned from war to find healing and solace in the outdoors and, in particular, Camp Hale and its surrounding landscape. Veteran programs for fishing, backpacking, rafting, and hunting expand across the country each year.

Bradley Noone, a 10th Mountain Division Light Infantry veteran who served in Afghanistan recently shared: “Public lands act as my church. They act as my therapist, my playground, my gym.” He said it is especially meaningful to spend time at Camp Hale because he feels inspired to backpack and camp in a place where the original 10th Mountain troopers trained.

The 10th Mountain Division’s legacy is part of Colorado and our nation’s heritage.

As president of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation, I am honored to speak on behalf of the brave men who trained at Camp Hale and those of today’s 10th Mountain Division Light Infantry based at Fort Drum, New York, to offer our thanks to Biden, Gov. Polis, Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper, and Reps. Neguse and Crow for advancing Camp Hale-Continental Divide protection — initially through championing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act and now through a national-monument designation.

I also am grateful to the Vets Voice Foundation and other veterans’ groups, business leaders, outdoor recreation groups, conservation organizations, local elected officials, and all the Coloradans who supported this effort! 

Nancy Kramer is the president of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation: