Okay, today we offer a bit of pre-season stoke — only with a different slant.
I’ve gotten to know a WWII veteran named Ralph Ball who lives a few blocks from here. He was in the 10th Mountain Division, and was one of the soldiers on the Trooper Traverse, when in 1944 they skied over the high Colorado mountains from Leadville to Aspen. Last week we joined Ralph and some of his 10th Mountain related friends to hang several Division paintings at the 10th Mountain Benedict Huts above Aspen. Along with that, the idea was to picnic, swap some stories, and sing a few trooper songs.
|The object at hand.|
First order of the day was the insignia painting.
This depiction of the 10th Mountain emblem was painted by 10th Veteran Bob Lewis’s daughter Katie’s husband, and had hung in Ralph’s office for years. The late Bob Lewis is an interesting fellow who lived in Aspen for more than fifty years, where he logged a career of environmental education and activism that few can equal.
“I’d been looking at the painting almost every day,” said Ralph, “and figured why should I be the only one enjoying it?”
|Ralph Ball hangs the painting at Fritz Benedict Hut.|
10th Mountain director Ben Dodge worked with Ralph to select good locations for the artwork. It was immediately obvious that the insignia painting should hang in the Fritz hut, up high on the southerly wall over a set of windows looking out on the mountains Fritz loved. Ladder engineering was implemented by Robin, and 80-something old Ralph climbed up there like a 20-year-old construction worker and did the honors. As Bob Lewis’s daughter Katie looked on, an emotional moment was had by all.
Next, we headed over to the Fabi hut where we hung a signed and framed print of a beautiful Jacques Parker skiing soldiers painting.
Picnic was next, then some fun. Ralph had requested that we do two things during the trip. First we would “cabaret,” meaning each person would share a story, sing a song or recite a poem. After that we’d have a sing-along. Best story was John Trip’s.
For years I’d enjoyed hearing a specific legend about how during 10th Mountain training at Camp Hale the artillery shot down a gigantic avalanche that fell in a lake and shoved the icepack out in a spectacular event. Turns out John Trip was there. According to him, they were out on maneuvers and artillery decided to shoot a cornice down from Homestake Peak over Slide Lake, (near Leadville and now above several 10th Mountain Huts). The soldiers gathered at what they figured was a safe distance. The shells whistled in and nailed the cornice, which in turn triggered a large avalanche that fell to the lake below. When the avalanche hit the lake it blasted the icepack out with a thunderous roar. No soldiers were hit, but according to Trip they ended up being “too close for comfort.”
One can only imagine the glee of a bunch of 20-year-olds witnessing something like that. Oh boy…
After cabaret we sang a few oldtime ski and mountain troop songs. Ralph brought along a 10th Mountain songbook and rolled through a few classics, then it was time for the penultimate tune of the 10th: 90 Pounds of Ruck Sack.
We passed lyric sheets around so everyone could join in, then belted out the old tune about the barmaid up at a mountain inn, who innocently tried to warm up a cold skier and ended up with a son in the mountain infantry. Funny how those things happen.
In all, a good day in the mountains. Thanks Ralph.
|Years ago, well known extreme skiing pioneer Chris Landry gave me a set of negatives from his 10th vet father, which I retain in the WildSnow historical archives. The Landry shots include this one of soldiers pointing at an avalanche path on the mountainside above Slide Lake. While there is no evidence of recent avy activity in the photo, one can only assume that they’re pointing to the avalanche slope where the famous event happened, perhaps a few days before they were there.|
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.