The newly designated Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument north of Leadville, Colorado, has long been a favorite outdoor playground for skiers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. A recent presidential proclamation further shines the spotlight on this north-central Colorado jewel.
President Joe Biden’s Oct. 12 proclamation also protects 53,804 acres of Colorado’s pristine high-country that includes the jagged peaks and rugged terrain of Tenmile Range, which lies along the continental divide in the Rockies.
“The area is also foundational to preserving and interpreting the story of 10th Mountain Division veterans who, after their return from World War II, applied the skills they learned in the Camp Hale and Tenmile Range area to establish America’s skiing and outdoor recreation industry,” the proclamation states.
Echoing those sentiments, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release that Camp Hale and the 10th Mountain Division “are unique in our military history.”
“The men and women who served and trained in this beautiful but punishing landscape made sacrifices for our country and made their mark on the history of the free world,” he stated.
“The stunning Camp Hale and Tenmile landscape is a recreation mecca where visitors enjoy alpine hiking, snowmobiling, skiing, snowshoeing, camping and more – it is an honored obligation for us to protect this treasured piece of our national heritage.”
10th Mountain Division reflections
While there are few remnants of the original Camp Hale today, a historical summary of its importance can be found at the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame in nearby Vail.
Dana Mathios, curator and director of collections at the museum, said the 10th Mountain Division exhibit tells the division’s story from its founding to Camp Hale, as well as “various battles” and its “legacy and impact on the Colorado snow sports industry and beyond.”
The museum also contains various World War II-era artifacts, including clothing and equipment; archived letters and scrapbooks; German and Japanese equipment; some weaponry; and items taken directly from Mussolini’s villa.
Those wishing to experience the newest national monument firsthand can consider the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. Created in 1980 as a nonprofit, the TMDHA offers the most extensive backcountry ski hut system dedicated to human-powered access, education and preservation. Today, 33 huts are available and are connected by 350 miles of suggested routes.
Throughout the U.S., outdoor enthusiasts can explore 36 similar hut systems, most of which are available to the public.
A comprehensive resource and historical summary of the extensive hut system can be found in “Hut to Hut USA” by Laurel Bradley and Sam Demas. The book includes a highlight of Fritz Benedict, founder of the TMDHA and a 10th Mountain Division soldier.
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“Benedict deserves credit for the shape, scope and vision of the largest hut system in the U.S.,” the authors wrote.
Prior to the war, Benedict trained as a landscape architect. He also was an expert skier before being drafted into the 10th Mountain Division. After the war, Benedict moved to Aspen and joined other former 10th Mountain Division veterans. He applied his planning background and created the master plans for developing ski resorts at Aspen, Vail and Snowmass.
In 1980, along with a group of ski friends, Benedict also helped develop the mission statement for what would become the TMDHA: “To build a mountain hut system that promotes understanding and appreciation of the natural environment while developing individual self-reliance.”
Based on that credo, the TMDHA inspired the creation of backcountry hut systems throughout Colorado and served as a model for development of other huts systems throughout the country.