Now a popular spot for fishing, mountain biking, and hiking, Camp Hale holds special importance for two reasons. It is the World War II training site of American ski troops who broke through German lines high in the Italian mountains and freed northern Italy, sustaining some of the largest United States casualties in the war.
In later years, these veteran ski troopers launched the Colorado ski industry.
The concrete foundations of some buildings are still visible at Camp Hale, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When you visit, remember the 15,000 men who learned skiing and mountaineering here and whose motto was “Climb to glory.”
World War II History
Camp Hale was built in 1942 so that the United States Army could train troops for winter survival and skiing. This site, on U.S. Highway 24 near Tennessee Pass and Ski Cooper, was chosen for its 9,300’ altitude, mountains, abundance of snow, and long winters. Four ski trails were cut, and the country’s longest T-Bar was installed at Cooper Hill.
In 1945, after two years of rigorous training, the 10th Mountain Division was ordered to Italy to advance the U.S. Army. In a series of actions that included Riva Ridge and Mt. Belvedere, the 10th Mountain Division breached German defenses, the supposedly impregnable Gothic Line in the Apennines, and secured the Po River Valley to play a vital role in liberating northern Italy.
But their success was not without cost. By the time the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 992 ski troopers had lost their lives, and 4,000 were wounded. This casualty rate was the highest of any U.S. division in the Mediterranean.
Today, you can visit a memorial to these fallen soldiers at the entrance to Ski Cooper. A second monument commemorates the soldiers of the 99th Battalion, Norwegian nationals who also trained at Camp Hale and liberated Norway in May 1945.
Each year a Ski-in-Reunion is held in March and a Memorial Day service is held in May to honor these heroes. The stretch of U.S. Highway 24 from Leadville to Minturn has been designated as The 10th Mountain Division Memorial Highway and is on the National Scenic and Historic Byway.
Birth of Colorado Ski Resorts
After the war, veterans of the 10th Mountain Division returned to the Colorado mountains. They founded the resorts of Ski Cooper, set on Cooper Hill near Camp Hale, and Vail. These resorts led what is now the booming ski industry in the Centennial state.
Another 10th Mountain veteran created Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, enabling Nordic skiers, snowshoers, and hikers to trek through the backcountry from hut to hut.
15 miles north of Leadville on U.S. Highway 24