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Book Review - "Climb To Conquer: The Untold Story of World War II's 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops" by Peter Shelton

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
After hearing a story about the 10th Mountain Division on NPR a few months ago, I talked about it so much that my wife must have made a mental note to pick out a book for my Christmas stocking (she's clever like that). She chose well; "Climb to Conquer" is written by Peter Shelton, a contributing editor at SKI magazine, and has a wonderful perspective any skier can appreciate. I won't go into a lot of detail to avoid spoiling the story, but Shelton starts with the origin of the 10th Mountain Division out of National Ski Patrol, talks about their training on Mt. Rainier and later in Colorado, their deployment and battles in Europe, and their contribution to the ski industry after the war.

This latter part is impressive and amazing, as 10th Mountain veterans founded many of the major ski resorts across the country (Aspen, A-Basin, Vail, Bachelor, Crystal, Sugarbush, Pico, and Seven Springs, among many others), contributed to the development of ski filming, ski equipment, lifts, and infrastructure, and started giants like K2, Nike, Sierra Club, and Heron (later part of Poma). Sixty-two ski areas were managed by, or had ski schools managed by, 10th Mountain vets, and over two thousand of them became ski instructors across the country. Men of the 10th Mountain division were truly like founding fathers of skiing. These guys had an amazing can-do spirit and attitude that still pervades many aspects of skiing to this day. All of us here on Epic benefit from their contributions to skiing, and can identify with their love for and dedication to the sport.

Of course, a major part of the book is WW II history, and it's a great book from that standpoint. The 10th Mountain Division played a key part in driving the German army out of Italy towards the end of the war, including one battle where they mounted an assault on German positions by climbing up the side of a 1500 ft. cliff in the Italian Apennines, breaking through what the Germans considered to be an impenetrable line of natural defense. This was followed by several battles in which the 10th played major roles and suffered many losses. There is no doubt about the seriousness and grim reality of war when reading this book, but the account is also peppered with many stories of good times involving liberation, camaraderie with locals and the enemy, skiing, and mountaineering experienced by the troops after the fighting was over.

I'll close with a great little story from the prologue that really sucked me into the book, and sort of characterizes what laid ahead.

The squad skied quietly uphill until sometime after sunrise, when they spotted a lone German in camoflage whites standing on a connecting ridge. The patrol's orders included bringing back prisoners if possible, so the squad leader called out for the trooper to halt, put his hands on his head, and "come in." A beat elapsed. Then another. Then the German jumped his skis 90 degrees into the fall line and schussed straight down the steep slope in front of him -- "like going down Tuckerman's" Lovett thought. "He was some skier." So impressed were the Americans that no one even thought to take a shot at him as he fled.

In summary, this was a great read, not only for it's interesting stories, but also for the historical content about the war and especially about the impact on the ski industry. I give this book a very high recommendation for anyone interested in skiing, skiing history, and war history.

Here's a link to the book on Amazon:
post #2 of 15
I saw a great PBS show on them and was amazed how many of the names I recognized....I raced against many of their kids.

Thanks for the review!
post #3 of 15
I bought that book for my stepfather, who is both a lifelong skier and a war veteran. He loved it.

I saw a TV story about some of the resorts in the Italian Alps, which showed all the gun emplacements hollowed into the cliff faces. Fascinating stuff.

post #4 of 15

I just got back from a last few days of skiing this season at A-Basin. First time there, and I really enjoyed it! I found A-Basin to be an incredible ski area, and I look forward to going back again and again, and exploring some of the more adventurous terrain there as I progress as a skier.


Prior to the trip I went to the library to pick up some reading material, and found "Climb To Conquer", and like skier219 loved it. Found his thread and just wanted to mention a couple of things. First is a related work "Fire On The Mountain", a documentary about the 10th Mountain Division, is available on Netflix as an on demand (play now) offering. This link should get you to it, or for you non-Netflix folks here's a link to a NYT Review and a youtube piece on the film.


Also, toward the end of chapter 16 in "Climb To Conquer" there is mention of a "10th Mountain Division Trail and Hut System", which is/was a system of 20-some huts "completing a jagged, three-hundred-mile circle around the Holy Cross Wilderness: from Aspen north and east to Vail, then south across Tennessee pass to Leadville, and west again to Aspen." Wondering if anyone has ever used all or part of this? I may be back out in Colorado this summer for some hiking, and would be interested in exploring the system, possibly using a hut for an overnight if possible. Any info would be appreciated.

post #5 of 15

A personal encounter with skiers of the 10th.

In the early 70’s, in my second ski season , I came to ski Colorado the first time. It was snowing lightly in Denver and much harder as we approached Loveland Pass which had to be summated as Eisenhower Tunnel had not been constructed. The Loveland road closed and we were detoured north. After a 4 hour ride our bus was in stop and go traffic a couple of miles east of Vail, after dark, but still snowing.

The bus was flagged down by a group standing on the side of the road and a dozen or so older men came aboard carrying cross country skis. One sat next to me and explained they were members of the 10th Mountain Division that fought in Italy during WW 2. They were on a reunion in Vail, as they had trained in the area, and, left in the early morning for some cross country skiing. They went too far east and, exhausted and wet, they simply could not get back. They were kidding among themselves that they “were not as young as they used to be”, which, 30 plus years later, I relate to very much. They did appreciate the beer that was available on the bus. The bus driver detoured into Vail and dropped them off right in front of their motel. A lot of wives were glad to see them.

It turned out to be a 12 hour bus ride from Denver to Aspen, but, not a flake of new snow fell at our destination. My ski week was 6 bluebird days, unmatched in any subsequent trip. Arguably, the best week of my life.

The Vail trail Riva Ridge is named in honor of the 10th for a major battle they fought in Italy. As others above have pointed out, members of the 10th provided the foundation for American skiing. Very few remain alive. They are members of what is called the “greatest generation”. Honor the 10th, and their peers, always..

post #6 of 15

Looks like there's also a ski trail in Washington, where the ski troops originally trained prior to eventually moving operations to Colorado...


10th Mountain Division Memorial Ski Trail, is a new cross country ski and snowshoe trail dedicated to America's first Ski Troops of WWII who first trained at Paradise on Mt. Rainier, Washington in 1941. Paradise is the birthplace of the Ski Troops and the 87th Infantry Regiment from which the 10th Mountain Division was formed.



And one more with some cool footage...


post #7 of 15


Originally Posted by Living Proof View Post

A personal encounter with skiers of the 10th.


That is a great story; thanks for sharing!

post #8 of 15

Our sport owes a huge debt to those of the 10th.  You see their shadows and footprints throughout American skiing.  Please remember that this regiment lives on, the 10th today is serving in Afghanistan.  Wonder what they will bring to our sport over time?  Imagine the skiing possabilities there in a peaceful world.

The members ot todays 10th deserve a thought too.  Thank you 10th, then and now; here is to you .  If we meet in Schooners while you are stateside, I'll buy you one.

post #9 of 15

10th Mountain manages a system of 29 backcountry huts in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, connected by 350 miles of suggested routes. We provide a unique opportunity for backcountry skiing, mountain biking, or hiking while staying in safe, comfortable shelter.



post #10 of 15

I had a pair of skis made for the 10th mountain division. They were Wooden Ski's manufactured in April 1943 (at least that the date stamped in them). The person that I bought them from, said they were "old army skis". They are somewhat of a cross between a telemark/alpine ski, painted a ivory or faded/yellowed white.

Several years ago, I gave them to my daughter, she has them on display in corner of her dining room.

post #11 of 15


Originally Posted by Steve2ski View Post

Several years ago, I gave them to my daughter, she has them on display in corner of her dining room.

Picture?  ;-)


In the interim...

Vail Mountain's Photos - 10th Mtn Division Re-enactment

During a Warren Miller photo shoot this season, the spirit of the U.S. Army's legendary 10th Mountain Division was re-enacted on Vail Mountain. Vail salutes the 10th Mountain and all our veterans and active duty.

post #12 of 15

In "Climb To Conquer" mention is made of several films from the WWII era that are about (or contain) skiing. One is Otto Lang's "The Basic Principles of Skiing", produced as a US Army Training film. It's available on Netflix, and I watched it last night. The description pretty much says it all...


Shot in 1941, this black-and-white instructional film (featuring actor Alan Ladd) serves as a veritable time capsule on the history of the sport, with advice on ski design, schussing, lacquer, wax and toe plates.


It''s pretty incredible. Highly recommended for anyone into skiing history.

post #13 of 15

Interesting article on the 10th Mountain Division in today's Summit Daily News. Here's a copy from the online version...


Tough Times at Camp Hale


( Once the page loads click on it to enlarge. )

post #14 of 15

Chris Anthony Commemorates the 10th Mountain Division in WME's 62nd Film


The quick back story of the 10th Mountain division piece for WME's 62nd film is this. I'm going to ski in and around the areas where the Mountain Troops of the 10thMountain Division trained between 1941 & 1946, prior to being deployed to fight in Italy. We have collected a number of interviews with the vets. We have tons of archive footage as well. So far,  we have had two days shooting interviews with the vets and three days getting some ski action shot. The first day of shooting ski action was tough. We were around Camp Hale where they lived.

post #15 of 15

Classic read, and if you combine it with John Fry's "Story of Modern Skiing", just a delight. And you learn fast, German troops perhaps their Austrian conscripts or French POW's or Swissy collaborators were very, very, good skiers...


Just a great piece of history, slow in parts and that is a fact but a great book...

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EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › On the Snow (Skiing Forums) › General Skiing Discussion › Book Review - "Climb To Conquer: The Untold Story of World War II's 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops" by Peter Shelton