There aren’t too many 10th Mountain Division soldiers left, but the few remaining and their families and other supporters have been busy traveling throughout the high country to many ski areas that got their start because of the men who returned from World War II and had a passion for the outdoors.
“We used to travel to the different resorts by the bus load, then the van load, and now we don’t need a very big car,” said Hugh Evans, who turns 94 later this month and skied his last runs at Ski Cooper during their annual ski-in gathering.
Each year the group skis at areas like Ski Cooper, Copper Mountain, Vail and Keystone. After skiing at Ski Cooper last week, Evans decided to hang up the skis. “I was getting a little wobbly out there, so I decided not to ski Riva Ridge today,” Evans said.
Even without skiing, Evans was kept busy meeting and greeting fans and friends of the 10th. Their morning in Vail started out with a trip to the recently transformed Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail Village to see the new “Climb to Glory” 10th Mountain Division exhibit. “I think they’ve done a nice job of capturing the history of the 10th. It’s the history of skiing,” Evans said.
“After the war ended there were about 260 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, many of them Europeans, who started the ski resorts you see now, all across the country. They started ski patrols, ski schools. They were instrumental in building the industry as we know it today,” Evans said.
This was the first time the 10th Mountain Division veterans’ group was here at the same time as the Vail Veterans Program participants. The Vail Veterans Program provides therapeutic and rehabilitative outdoor sports programs for military members who have suffered catastrophic injuries while serving our country. Evans had a chance to speak to some of those recently wounded soldiers while they were getting ready for their adaptive ski and snowboard lessons at Golden Peak.
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“I love it that they have the same freedom that we do, to try and ski. It’s a wonderful sport, you’re out in the open, up in the mountains with beautiful weather like this, it’s a passion.” Evans said.
The admiration was mutual from both ends of the age spectrum. The younger vets enthusiastically shook Evans’ hand, took photos with him and treated him like a hero. He did receive the Silver Star medal for valor in combat among other achievements.
Evans was equally touched by their sacrifices and had this bit of advice for them. “Make the best of your life, whatever it is. It’s your attitude that’s the key,” Evans said. “You get knocked down, you get back up and start over again.”