Life at Camp Hale and the Birth of the 10th Mountain Division
Once the facility was completed it became a haven for not only winter warfare training but outdoor recreation as well. Being that the Pando Valley was so isolated it was difficult for the soldiers and personnel to travel into cities for their leisure requirements. Luckily, a high percentage of those that volunteered for this division were outdoorsman through and through. The natural landscape of the valley proved to have much to offer in the way of recreation such as hunting, fishing, skiing, survival camping, mountain climbing, and mountaineering. In fact, some of Colorado’s tallest mountains, known as the Colorado 14’ers were climbed for the first time by 10th Mountain Soldiers. In many ways their hobbies were their jobs which made their military training that much easier. Many of the enlisted men of the 10th Mountain Division were in fact some of the top skiers in the world, and during their stay at Camp Hale traveled to many competitions and won! World famous ski jumper Torger Tokle traveled to Steamboat Springs in February of 1942 and placed first with a distance jump of 226 feet.
Travel to ski competitions was not the only chance they got to leave the base. They also took weekend trips to Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Denver, and even Leadville (once it enforced its reformation). There were also many on site activities that kept the men and women of camp hale occupied and satisfied. There was a movie theater with screenings of the most current flicks, an auditorium where bands and chorals could perform, and dances were occasionally thrown with women brought in from Leadville. The USO traveled to Camp Hale on occasion with big names such as boxer Joe Louis and Fred Waring.
It was not all fun and games, however, for the 10th Mountain Division during their stead at Camp Hale. During the winter of 1943-1944 they endured rigorous instruction in the form of winter/mountain survival techniques, long distance snow marches, combat and munitions. Among the munitions tested and used at Camp Hale were anti-tank rockets, land mines, and recoilless rifles. One of the most famous training procedures endured by the 10th Mountain Division was a Camp Hale to Aspen trek that took more than 3 ½ days to complete.
Joining the War Efforts
In January of 1945 it was finally time for the troops of Camp Hale to join the battle and secure their place in history. The Germans had established sturdy defenses along the Northern Italian Alps. Via Naples, Italy the 10th Mountain Division set off the route German Army from Mount Belvedere. Unexpectedly warm weather hindered the troop’s plans and instead of skiing they were forced to rock climb and their famous white camouflage outfits were rendered useless. Despite these hold ups they scaled Riva Ridge, surprised the Germans, and captured the German post. They then went on to capture Mounts Gorgolesco and della Toraccia with 900 casualties suffered. In the subsequent months they set their sights on Mount della Spe and Mount Tole which paved the way for advancement into the Po Valley. In April the Po Valley was captured and on May 2, 1945 the German Army stationed in Italy surrendered. The 10th Mountain Division suffered approximately a 25% casualty rate with 4,888 including 978 killed in action.