By Edith Maxwell
North of Boston
New England’s Heroes
The soup lover’s mystery series is set in the village of Snowflake, Vermont. And like a few other places in the state of Vermont, this mythical town boasts its very own ski resort beckoning tourists to its slopes.
But turn the clock back several decades – six or seven perhaps, to the late 1930’s. It’s hard to imagine now, but skiing was far from a popular recreational sport in the United States. In 1931, a Boston ski club organized the first Ski Train to New Hampshire. The very first ski lift was installed at the White Cupboard Inn just across from the village green in Woodstock, Vermont in 1934. Soon a number of Northeastern railroads were running special trains to the few rudimentary ski slopes then in existence.
A few years later, World War II was raging in Europe and stories of the bravery of Finnish soldiers on skis were filtering across the Atlantic. Many believed that if and when America entered the war in Europe, there would be a need for soldiers who could handle extreme cold and mountainous conditions.
Enter C. Minot (“Minnie”) Dole, founder of the National Ski Patrol in 1938. Dole, inspired by these stories of soldiers on skis, and realizing future battles would be fought in winter conditions, campaigned then President Franklin Roosevelt and Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall to form a mountain division. From this hard fought campaign, the 10th Mountain Division was formed — the only military group to be founded by a civilian.
Dole’s organization, the National Ski Patrol System, was given the task of recruitment. The unit needed mountain climbers, outdoor guides, lumberjacks, cowboys, mule skinners and veterinarians — men accustomed to living and surviving in the wilderness. Many of these men came from Northern New England and more than 260 who served in this elite division were Vermonters. They fought, with horrific losses, in Italy and Austria against the German gebirgsjaeger and the Italian bersiglieri. At its inception, America’s first ski troops were comprised of only 1,000 men under the aegis of the 5th Army. By the end of the war, the 10th had grown to three divisions, over 33,000 soldiers.
A towering, white-camoflaged infantryman marches with skis and poles on his shoulder, a tribute to the 10th Mountain Division.
Photo from http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/27393
Stowe’s statue was deemed “too military” by some of the town’s citizenry to be installed in a public park. It stood on private land along Mountain Road from 2005 until it was moved to the Stowe Mountain Resort at 5781 Mountain Road in Stowe, Vermont.
In the decades following World War II, these veterans were the men who created the ski industry in America. They founded ski lodges, ski schools and ski patrols. They coached and formed ski organizations such as the Vermont Alpine Racing Association. They developed technological innovations and were instrumental in the formation of the Mountain Warfare School and Battalion in Jericho, Vermont.
On November 9, 2003, the Vermont Ski Museum (http://www.vtssm.com/) inducted into the Vermont Ski Hall of Fame the more than 260 Vermonters who served in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II.
Towns and villages just like Snowflake, Vermont survive and thrive to this day thanks to the industry created by these veterans on skis. What about you, reader? Have you skied in Vermont? Ever served on ski patrol? Or are you more likely to be watching that lovely snow from the comfort of the lodge, a hot drink in hand?
Connie Archer is the national bestselling author of A Spoonful of Murder and A Broth of Betrayal, the soup lover’s mystery series set in Vermont, from Berkley Prime Crime. Connie was born and raised in New England. She now lives on the other coast.