Lifes Adventures

The Birth of Camp Hale

In the early 1940’s the need for specially trained winter warfare troops was drastically increasing.  Inspired by the triumph of the Finnish troops in invading Soviet units during the Finnish Winter War, the War Department decided a comprehensive training site was required.  Two historical groups that helped mold the ski community as we know it also had a hand in convincing the War Department that mountain warfare training was pertinent.  The American Alpine Club began advising the military on winter equipment that would aid in soldier survival in the winter.  Also the National Ski Patrol Association headed by Charles Minot Dole influenced the advancement of such training via his knowledge of alpine education as well as his acknowledging the great skill of American skiers.  The National Ski Patrol Association would prove to be most useful in its recruitment of some of the world’s best skiers to the 10th Mountain Division at Camp Hale.

Subsequently, the Mountain Winter Warfare Board was established to design and assess winter equipment and the 1st battalion of the 87th infantry was established.  They began their training at Fort Lewis in Washington; however, this location was only temporary and a larger locality was needed for more all-inclusive training.  The troops were first moved to Camp Carson, CO which was then called the Mountain Training Center.  Not long after, the construction of Camp Hale north of Leadville, CO became the home of up to 16,000 soldiers, including 200 women from the WAC, and 3,900 animals.

Camp Hale is located just off the Highway 24 between Leadville and Red Cliff in the heart of the Colorado Rockies.  Many factors aided in choosing this site as favorable for the creation of a winter warfare training facility.  First, was the average snowfall and terrain provided by the adjacent Continental Divide and surrounding peak-filled mountain ranges.  Second, the area was located near the Rio Grande Railway which, coupled with the Highway 24, provided for ready access for workers and supplies.  The region was also rich in natural water sources and coal was readily accessible to satisfy the camp’s energy needs.  The only drawback of choosing this area was the Town of Leadville itself and the overall isolation of the camp from urban areas.  At the time the moral fiber of the small mining town of Leadville was compromised due to gambling, prostitution, and non-enforcement of liquor laws.  The soldiers were not allowed to enter Leadville until these problems were alleviated. 

Construction of the camp was commenced on April 7th, 1942 and the contractors were given a seven month time frame to complete the job.  Upon completion the base would contain many personal and professional services for the soldiers.  Among the most impressive of these services were a 2,676 seat theater, an 18,000 square foot field house, and an auditorium for 3,000 people.  Throughout the eight months required to build Camp Hale about 12,000 laborers had come and gone from the area.  Worker turnover was not the only issue that plagued the construction of the enormous project.  The entire valley was a swamp and had to be drained which caused the re-channeling of the Eagle River and for proper drainage of the river to be established.  An expansive sewage system also had to be designed due to the threat of polluting the neighboring towns’ water sources.  Other issues included the wartime copper shortage, average snowfall of 163.5 inches annually, and air pollution. 
 

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