Shelton releases Climb to Conquer



Climb to Conquer: The Untold Story of World War II’s 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops; By Peter Shelton; Scribner; 275 pages.

Any backcountry user who has been fortunate enough to venture into Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and stay at one of the 29 huts that are part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut System is going to enjoy journalist Peter Shelton’s new book.

Then again, so will any outdoor enthusiast or history buff. That’s because Shelton’s latest, Climb to Conquer: The Untold Story of World War II’s 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops, is an engaging tome that takes readers from the high country of Colorado to the rugged and dangerous peaks of war-laden Italy. It’s a book worthy of reading not only for its seemingly accurate contribution to battle history, but also for its intriguing first-hand accounts from some of the Division’s surviving members (a number that is quickly dwindling).

Shelton begins the book with the initial stages of creating the Division. From there, he takes readers on through the years, staying pretty much true to a timeline that is parallel to World War II and even years beyond. That said, Climb to Conquer does not bore. In spite of its chronological layout, it lacks a reportorial approach that would otherwise bog down the stirring events. Perhaps because Shelton is a respected journalist who has long contributed to Outside and Ski magazines, his writing is more like a novel than academic text.


The author accomplishes this by sharing interviews with men from the Division, some of whom have published (self or otherwise) their own memoirs, providing photos and inserting passages from letters the men wrote to loved ones. In doing this, Shelton doesn’t limit the story only to the brutal training the troops went through in order to fight a war on steep slopes and craggy terrain. He gives a fuller, rounder story that contributes levity to a dark subject.

The forming of the 10th is a unique story. The idea for it began when, in 1940, a group of skiers lounging in a Vermont lodge discussed the Finnish Army’s dogged attempt to fight against the Russian Army the previous winter. In the battles between the two countries, the Finns displayed impressive battle skills on skis while the Russians took a beating for such. Even though the Russians defeated the Finns, they were severely hampered due to the Finns’ familiarity with mountain conditions.

The United States had not yet entered the war. But the skiers, among them Charles Minot Dole, the recent organizer of the National Ski Patrol System, wondered how the United States would be able to protect this country’s northern mountainous border from a potential German enemy. Dole began a dedicated effort to convince the Army and the War Department to train troops in winter skills. Initially, the government resisted Dole’s ideas. But after persistence, the government signed on with Dole, helping to recruit some of the country’s elite (and novice) skiers to be part of the 10th Division.

From there, Shelton presses on with the Division’s tales of extensive mountain and ski training at Camp Hale in Colorado (as well as other places) and includes a gripping account of the 10th’s 114 days in combat, where they only skied once (during an assault on Riva Ridge) and never even put their climbing skills to use. They did rout five German divisions and helped cause the collapse of the German 14th Army. In the end, the 10th was the last division to enter the war in Europe, yet it was the one that suffered the most casualties – an average of 1,209 a month. Still, it retains its status as an elite troop of college boys, skiing pioneers and avid outdoorsman.

Perhaps this prompts Shelton to subtitle his book with the statement that it’s an untold story. Rather, the 10th is one of the Army’s most written-about stories. Not only does the hut system include places bearing troopers’ monikers, there have been at least a half dozen other published books. In comparison, Shelton’s work is the one that deals most extensively with the fact that several members of the 10th Division contributed outstandingly to the ski, outdoor recreation and environmental movement. The author reiterates (as other authors have) that its veterans are known almost as much for their peacetime efforts as they are for wartime exploits. These people include: David Brower, the intrepid leader of the Sierra Club; the founders of Vail and Aspen ski resorts (among others); Paul Petzoldt, founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School; and Bill Bowerman, who jumpstarted the athletic gear craze by the Nike waffle sole.

Ultimately, this addition to Shelton’s story provides the proverbial cherry on top of an already sweet story that told 40 years later has as much appeal to skiers as it does to history buffs.








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