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Snow Business

skiers
Follow the Leader: A scene of skiers at war in the Italian Alps from "Fire on the Mountain."

A new documentary recalls the exploits of skiing soldiers

By Richard von Busack

'FIRE ON THE Mountain" is an inspiring real-life war story about the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division. This elite WWII corps was made up of ski champions and mountaineers. "Nobody wanted to burn in a tank or fall out of the sky," says one vet, explaining why they joined. Except for six weeks of "D series," a camp-out in subzero weather, the 10th spent most of the war in tough but enjoyable training in the Rockies.

In early 1945, however, the division faced horrible fighting against entrenched German soldiers in Italy's Apennines range, surviving to face SS troops in the Alps. The division lost one out of four men. The flat, Hitler Channel storytelling--including the snare drums and harmonica on the soundtrack--is mitigated by the two things: first, the interviews with the self-effacing old vets themselves; second, the fact that the vet's lives weren't anticlimactic after the war. The ex-mountain troops returned to the mountains. Some of the interviewees became pioneers of the recreational industry. The ex-soldiers opened hundreds of ski resorts, including Aspen and Vail.

One especially cheerful moment comes when one old soldier describes how he imported jogging from New Zealand when he was a University of Oregon track coach in the early 1960s. He tells how he tried to design a shoe that would resist clogging by Williamette Valley mud. He eventually baked some rubber in a waffle iron to make the sole of a prototype running shoe that, he says, without pause, "sold like hot cakes"--and resulted in the founding of Nike.


Fire on the Mountain (Unrated; 72 min.), a documentary by Beth and George Gage.

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From the January 23-29, 1997 issue of Metro

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