Aspen's 10th Mountain Division

A multimedia project for the Walter Isaacson School for New Media

Isaacson School for New Media - Our Team Tumblr

This is the Tumblr blog that Carly Sewell, Susan Penland and I created as part of our research into the 10th Mountain Division and their Aspen legacy.  Hope you like it!

A Ski Culture’s Legacy

Just like trees, we all have our roots – places from which we came. Ideas, perceptions and habits formed since our youth will run deep in our veins until our eventual day to rest. The same could be said about an idea, a philosophy and most certainly a town. Our cultural legacy was planted during WWII with the nearby 10th Mountain Division training facility near Leadville at Camp Hale. During this time, the powerful Elk Mountains were explored by the men in white who quickly fell in love with Aspen including a young Austrian-American, Friedl Pfeifer. He saw the immense potential in these mountains and would embark on a journey to help develop the ski culture and terrain of what is now Ajax and Buttermilk Mountains. This one man saw the energy in the landscape and had a vision so clear of what it could become. Without him, Aspen ain’t nothing.

It’s interesting to mull over all the reasons why people come to Aspen. This town attracts a plethora of those who flock to the mountains for their own reasons, but just like Pfeifer, they see some sort of means to an end. Sitting at a bar, it’s hard to say what brought each person to your right and to your left, but one thing is certain - Aspen can be the cure to almost any ailment and the love this community has is healing in itself. People are happy here and it’s apparent in the smiling faces on every corner, strangers saying hi and the continued communal fight to make this place the ‘best’ that it can be.

I was born in Aspen and my time here has been incredible. As I look forward to my future endeavors in new and distance places, I am reminded of the notion that I will always be able to come back. While my family will continue to live here, I know that I can always come back to the familial community that I left in the mountains; a camaraderie that began with Fridl Pfeifer. It’s a beautiful thing, the ski culture of Aspen, for it is a community in itself. I know that I can always hike Highlands Bowl or hop the Bucket for a ride and see familiar faces or make new friends. It’s the power of the mountains that has brought us together and formed this band of brothers who have flocked here for some sort of personal solace. 

Winter came to Aspen last week, and while the majority were tucked cozy in bed, awaiting the alarm to sound to go skiing the next morning, I walked under a sky of falling snow, surrounded by stillness and twinkling Christmas lights. In that moment, I felt so blessed for a legacy – the legacy that has shaped Aspen as we know it today. One that has given me a beautiful life, a caring community and a culture I feel fortunate to be a part of. Breathing deep, the crisp, dry air in through my nose, filling my lungs and into my cells, the night was icy, but I felt warm with the long-awaited falling snow around me; warm with the thought of how lucky we all are to live here.

A Life in the Mountains

By Susan Penland

Aspen is a town in touch with her history.  The silver mining days sometimes feel just moments away. And the pioneering spirit of Friedel Pfeiffer, Fred Iselin, Walter Paepcke and the others have seeped in to the very paving stones of the Hyman mall. There are ski runs named after long time local families and evidence of the 10th Mountain Division on the mall by the gondola and a mural by Wagner park. 

My group from The Introduction to Internet Media class chose the 10th Mountain Division as our focus for our class project, “A week in the life of Aspen.” We worked with the historical society. We interviewed people on the street. And I had the honor of interviewing Dick McCrudden who just turned 90 on November first. Knowing Dick from parties at my parents house I had a very general idea of his story. But my idea was not close to reality. 

In 1942 Dick was in his first semester at Middlebury studying geology. Knowing his draft number was drawing near he quit school and went up to Cranmore Mountain resort in North Conway NH and  started working with Hannes Schneider, who has been called the father of modern ski instruction. Hannes had developed the stem turn and the jump turn, which revolutionized the ski industry.

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 That spring when his draft number was called up Dick had a skill the army could use. He could teach skiing to the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. While he started basic training he was quickly pulled to teach rock climbing and then later sent to Mt. Rainier to learn ice climbing. As soon as the snow started falling Dick was training others how to teach skiing. He worked at that at Cooper mountain until mid winter when the army started maneuvers. 

While the rest of Camp Hale was  working on maneuvers Dick’s regiment, the 85th was on the enemy detail. Dick was recruited to do reconnaissance, which meant walking around in the woods at night in -30 degree weather wearing what passed for extreme winter gear in those days. There was no down coat, no goretex  just wool, and leather and cotton. He reported in each morning and spent his days sleeping in a lean to on the top of Tennessee pass. He did it until, in his words he just wore out. The grit and fortitude the men of the 10th mountain division had is admirable. 

When the camp was sent to Camp Swift in Texas for flat land training Dick stayed behind to train more. He was granted a medical discharge and returned to college to get a degree in business administration and geology. 

During his time at Camp Hale Dick had spent weekends staying at the Hotel Jerome and hiking up Roch Run to ski. He was familiar with Aspen and knew it was going to be a big ski town, so it was inevitable that he came back as soon as he was done with college. 

His first job in town was that of a tennis instructor with a second job bar tending at night.   How little have things changed over the years as the new Aspen resident will most likely have two jobs to support their skiing habit. A winter job as a ski patroller got Dick back on the slopes he had grown to love. 

After a short stint as a patroller Dick went back to teaching and taught skiing in the ski school that Friedel Pfeiffer and Fred Iselin had established in 1947. He went on to become a ski school supervisor and eventually the ski school director in a life that lasted 40 years with the ski company. 

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Ski school Director Dick McCrudden with his wife Connie watch a ski race in 1970:Photocredit Aspen Historical Society


His love affair with the local mountains that began with the 10th Mountain Division continued as his summers were spent hunting and fishing in the high country .He proudly states that he fished every high alpine lake within 100 miles of Aspen. Pulling out 10 lb cut throat trout from lakes with no names. 

He also cut new ski runs on Aspen, Tiehack and did the geological survey for the Big Burn. While he was not a founding father of the ski industry like Friedel, or Hannes he rubbed elbows with them and made his own contributions to the sport and to the ski town of Aspen. 

At 90 he is no longer skiing. He had to stop three years ago, at 87, due to some nerve issues in his legs. He smiles sadly when he talks about it and says that with all the walking around the mountains he just wore his legs out. His time in the 10th Mountain sent him on the course he followed and led him to his landing spot for the last 68 years, Aspen. 

The 10th Mountain Division produced luminaries and game changers. It produced founding fathers of the ski industry. But it also produced men who loved the mountains and made small contributions of their own. They lived lives on what was then the cutting edge in what could be called the ski industry frontier. Their world in Aspen was bright with opportunities. The doors were open for them, all they had to do was walk through. It is hard to think that such opportunities exists for todays ski bum, but those for whom skiing is a passion are wily and will sacrifice much for their sport. If there is a crack in the door they will find it. And hopefully get to ski as many days and as many years as Dick McCrudden. 

During Dick McCrudden’s years as ski school director he managed up to 600 instructors who taught up to 150 lessons a day. 
Notice the military straightness of their line up. Some things stay with you. 
At one point in his interview Dick McCrudden talks about how the weather pattern has changed. In the 50’s he said they skied on powder everyday. 
"It would snow 15-18" at night, stop around 8 am and clear up to blue skies. Around 3pm it would cloud up and snow through the night. In April when Aspen Mountain closed there would be 8-10 feet on top of the mountain still." -Dick McCrudden
Dick McCrudden in his early days of Aspen as a ski patrol. Here he is 4th from the left. He went on to teach skiing and then later became head of the entire ski school. His time with the Ski company spanned 40 years. 
photocredit Aspen Historical Society

Dick McCrudden a vetern of the 10th mountain division talks about training at Camp Hale and his early days in Aspen.

Aspen circa 1944 with a view of Roch run. The only run on Aspen Mountain at the time where Dick McCrudden of the 10th Mountain Division hiked up and skied down on weekends for fun. 

A Vision Beyond the Battlefield - The legacy of the 10th Mountain Division in Aspen.  Special thanks to Aspen Historical Society for the film footage and photographs.

Four amazing vets.  Steve Knowlton, a championship ski racer, became one of the first Winter Olympians from Aspen and John Litchfield was heavily involved with ski patrol when the mountain really started to grow in 1946-1947.