Army’s 10th Mountain Division responsible for modern-day skiing

TACOMA — Stretching a yellow extension cord to its limit, Lynn Phillips carried a small CD player out of Crystal Mountain’s summit-top ski demo shop Friday and set it in the snow at 6,872 feet above sea level.

About 70 people and 16 Rangers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord gathered above the ski area’s Green Valley to celebrate the history of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and its impact on the ski industry.

Phillips wanted to sing.

Her father, Daniel, and uncle, Johnny, both served in the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, and she still has vivid memories of the division’s songs.

Seventy years later, some of the lyrics are still a little too risque for a family newspaper, but the sound of her singing quickly drew the attention of Sonja Stingl.

Stingl, whose husband, Karl, was a 10th Mountain Division veteran, took a seat on a parked snowmobile near Phillips and joined in the singing.

“Ay yomp on a train for Fort Lewis/To fight for the USA/Ay yoin up the Mountain Battalion/And here ay tink I vill stay.”

As they sang the 16 young rangers dressed in white ski gear meant to simulate the attire worn by the original troops, posed for pictures with a cloud-veiled Mount Rainier serving as the back drop.

The 10th Mountain Division got its start on Mount Rainier.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Army activated its first mountain unit — the 87th Mountain Infantry Battalion at Fort Lewis. The battalion became the 10th Mountain Division two years later at Camp Hale in Colorado.

The division’s iconic shoulder sleeve insignia shows two crossed red bayonets under a blue banner inscribed with the word “Mountain.”

“The crossed bayonets signify the Roman numeral 10,” said Puyallup resident Gene Glasunow, who helped organize Friday’s celebration. “The red indicates, ‘We’re going to spill some blood.’ And the ‘Mountain’ was to signify that they were specialized mountain troops. The Germans had many divisions, and we had none.”

The National Ski Patrol led training and recruiting efforts. It was a relationship that would later pay off more for the ski industry than it ever could have imagined.

“After the war, these men came back and got involved in every aspect of skiing there was,” Glasunow said. “They built ski lifts. They built snowcats. They became ski instructors, mountain managers.”

Glasunow said veterans played a role in starting more than 60 ski areas. Ski troopers helped scout the terrain that is now Crystal Mountain Resort, resort spokeswoman Tiana Enger said.

Nelson Bennett, a 10th Mountain Division veteran who lives in Yakima, was a longtime manager of White Pass Ski Area and helped select the site of Idaho’s Schweitzer Mountain.

“The roots of what you are skiing on today go back to World War II up on Mount Rainier,” Glasunow told the small crowd gather at Crystal on Friday.

Friday’s event was part of Skiing Heritage Week. The events wrapped up with skiing at the Summit at Snoqualmie followed by a hall of fame induction ceremony in Seattle.

Glasunow, Phillips, Stingl and others donated several original items like thick wool socks, recruiting posters and leather ski pole baskets for a temporary 10th Mountain Division display set up at Crystal’s summit-top ski demo shop.

Fourteen of the 16 Lewis-McChord Rangers who attended Friday’s festivities showed up with snowboards instead of the division’s traditional skis.

Stingl, whose husband died in January, ribbed one of the Rangers about his snowboard.

“Bad, bad,” she said with a smile. “… It’s so wonderful that they are here.”

Many of the Rangers who volunteered for the ceremony had very little skiing experience.

“This is just my second day on skis,” said Pvt. Corin Davies, a 19-year-old from Minnesota. “They told me I could clean up a range or go skiing. I volunteered. I want to be up here.”

The Rangers weren’t bashful about taking on Green Valley, with some doing well and others providing some entertaining wipeouts.

As somebody who has spent years studying skiing and 10th Mountain Division history, Glasunow was pleased with the scene.

“This is like a dream come true,” he said.

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