Fire on the mountain

  • Members of the 10th Mountain Division trained in Colorado in the 1940s

    John Jay
  • Newc Eldredge and Dick Wilson at a reunion 50 years later

    George Gage
  Synthetic rubber, sulfa drugs, nuclear power - those are a few of the better-known medical and technological byproducts of war. Less known is that World War II also spawned the snowmobile, the snowcat and the modern ski industry.

Those are some of the stories told in Fire on the Mountain, a film that documents the history of the 10th Mountain Division, an elite corps trained to fight in snowy, mountainous terrain. The division was the brainchild of National Ski Patrol System inventor Charles "Minnie" Dole. Roughly a year after Dole wrote to President Roosevelt suggesting the idea of a ski-patrol infantry, the Army began recruiting the nation's best skiers and mountaineers to train at Fort Hale near Leadville, Colo.

The division's most prominent battle was the 1945 assault on Italy's Riva Ridge, during which the men scaled a 2,000-foot cliff at night. The film, written and produced by Colorado filmmakers Beth and George Gage, combines excellent vintage footage with recent interviews with men who fought in the division. Many later became leaders in the ski industry, outdoor education and the environmental movement: environmentalist David Brower; Fritz Benedict, the architect of Vail and Snowmass Village; and Bill Bowerman, the founder of Nike. After the war, some 2,000 of the 10,000 men found jobs developing or working in the ski industry.

The film is available for $33 on video. Contact Gage and Gage Productions, P.O. Box 2526, Telluride, CO 81435 (970/728-4908).

*Elizabeth Manning

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