10th Mountain Division movie series honors soldiers who shaped Colorado ski industry | SummitDaily.com

10th Mountain Division movie series honors soldiers who shaped Colorado ski industry

Alli Langley
alangley@summitdaily.com

In 1942, Dick Over enlisted with the an experimental unit of the U.S. Army, the now famous 10th Mountain Division.

He was about 21 years old, and soon he was training in the deep snow and high altitudes around Camp Hale near Leadville.

Unlike other soldiers at the time, who were shipped off to war once they finished basic training, Over and his unit spent more than two years traveling together on skis with nearly 100 pounds each of weapons and survival gear, preparing to fight the Germans in the mountainous regions of Europe.

Over fought in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese, but the division's veterans are best known for their skillful efforts in the Italian Alps as well as their huge role in creating the modern-day ski industry when they returned to the Rocky Mountains after the war.

CREATORS OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN SKIING

Starting this week, Over will speak at the inaugural movie series about the division hosted by the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.

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The first film in the three-part series will show Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Dillon Community Church, and the $15 tickets will go to the nonprofit partner of the local Forest Service ranger district.

"We just feel like it's a really good thing for people around here to know how much impact they had on what we take for granted," said Doozie Martin, the nonprofit's programs manager.

Chuck Kauffman, an FDRD volunteer and Copper Mountain Resort mountain safety patroller, organized and will emcee the events as well as provide the movies.

"We're losing so many of these men now. There's very few of them left," said the 78-year-old who lives near Keystone. "The history needs to be kept going."

The three films tell the story of the division's men and women who exhibited bravery and great skill in difficult terrain and experienced great losses.

"The Last Ridge" and "Fire on the Mountains" have real war footage, interviews and newsreels, said Jasmine Hupcey, FDRD's office and volunteer manager. The "Climb to Glory" film, produced by Warren Miller Entertainment, has reenactments and sheds more light on the veterans' post-war impacts.

After the war, many division veterans became ski instructors, ski patrollers and ski equipment designers. They founded and managed more than 60 resorts in the West. And they created marketing organizations and skiing magazines to promote the nascent ski industry.

"The 10th guys put it on the map," said Craig Clark, a Copper volunteer mountain safety patroller and son of veteran Earl Clark. "Prior to that it was a very East Coast, upper class, wealthy man's sport. After that it became the common man's sport."

A MOUNTAIN SOLDIER BOND

Earl Clark, who helped found the 10th Mountain Division National Association, died on Dec. 28.

Craig, a 61-year-old Arvada resident, watched his father and the other 10th Mountain vets interact his whole life. They reunited often, he said, and when they did "it was like they lived next door."

Every year they met for a week of skiing in Colorado and reminisced at Ski Cooper, near Camp Hale.

"It was this combined love of the mountains that drew all of these guys," he said.

After the war, Over instructed for a season at the now-defunct Berthoud Pass Ski Area and then traveled Colorado and Wyoming selling ski equipment.

He later returned to his engineering career plans and settled in the 1950s in Golden, where he's lived ever since. When he retired in 1983, Over again became a ski instructor.

At the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, Over and fellow vets wearing 10th Mountain Division patches were spotted by a former German soldier in a similar division.

He asked the group if he could ski with them.

"Being a former enemy, there was a little concern as to whether we really wanted to include him," Over said. "We discussed it at some length and decided that it was time that we forgave our former enemies."

After the man returned to Germany, 10th Mountain Division folks sent a wreath to a memorial in Germany remembering the battles in which the mountain troops faced each other.

Over said they placed on the ribbons these words: "To the men of the mountains, from the men of the mountains, with respect."

Six weeks later, the Germans asked if they could return the gesture. They hand-delivered a wreath to the 10th Mountain Division monument on Tennessee Pass.

"We became friends of our former enemies," Over said.

The mountain landscapes they loved and the skiing and rock climbing skills they had used against each other drew them together, and the former mountain soldiers formed the International Federation of Mountain Soldiers, he said.

The association now has members from seven nations and meets every year in a different country, he said.

90-POUND RUCKSACKS

Gene Dayton, a longtime Breckenridge resident who founded the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, said he has long revered the 10th Mountain veterans.

"They're absolutely my heroes," he said. "It's unfathomable that they were able to sustain their own health and strength under the austere conditions that they were in."

Dayton built the Breckenridge and Frisco Nordic Center lodges with his wife, Therese, and owns 10th Mountain Division memorabilia including boots, poles and skis.

"Our equipment today is so far superior," said Dayton, 71. "The skis almost turn themselves."

Over said the division's wooden skis came in two sizes: 7 foot and 7 foot, 6 inches.

"The first ones we got didn't even have steel edges on them," he said.

Besides its skiing gear, strange for army battalions, the division was known for its songs.

"A lot of the early members of the 10th Mountain Division were members of college ski clubs and choral groups," Over said. "They brought the camaraderie that singing brings to skiers."

Clark said after growing up around the veterans, he knows all the mountain soldier songs, rarely heard these days.

Over, now 92, said he will sing the division's theme song, "90 Pounds of Rucksack," after the film showings.

Over still has his rucksack, though now it's down to 76 pounds, he said, after the soldiers realized they didn't need a few things.

IF YOU GO

What: Friends of the Dillon Ranger District 10th Mountain Division Movie Nights

When:

• 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24 — Part I: “The Last Ridge”

• 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21 — Part II: “Climb to Glory: Legacy of the 10th Mountain Ski Troopers”

• 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Mar. 14 — Part III: “Fire on the Mountains”

Where: Dillon Community Church, 371 La Bonte St., Dillon

How much: $15 for each movie night

More information: The films run about 45 to 50 minutes and will be followed by a Q&A with division veteran Dick Over and short bonus footage that features him, “Triumphs of the 10th.” Light refreshments will be available. Call (970) 262-3449, or visit http://www.fdrd.org.