Chris Anthony’s ‘Mission Mt. Mangart,’ a documentary about the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in World War II, to be shown in Boulder on Jan. 12
Like many lifelong Coloradans, Chris Anthony knew a little bit about the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry unit that trained on skis in the mountains near Vail and whose members later famously helped launch many Colorado ski areas.
Unlike others, however, Anthony was uniquely positioned to tell the story of how the 10th Mountain Division fought in Italy and even captured Mussolini’s compound on Lake Garda during World War II. Anthony is a University of Colorado Boulder alumnus who earned a BS in kinesiology (now integrative physiology) in 1990, was a professional skier in 28 Warren Miller films, was inducted into of the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame, and is now a filmmaker.
Anthony will share that story in a special showing of his documentary film, “Mission Mt. Mangart: The mighty story of the legendary 10th Mountain Division,” on Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. at Boulder Theater. The event is presented by the CU Boulder Alumni Association, and tickets are available through the Boulder Theatre.
As Anthony notes, local rumors once held that the 10th Mountain Division was instrumental in Colorado’s ski industry but that it did not see much combat.
“That turns out to be incredible misinformation,” Anthony said recently. “They not only saw combat, but they saw a lot of combat in a very short period of time.”
Reminders of that combat are still visible in Colorado. The ruins of Camp Hale, where soldiers were trained in mountain climbing, alpine and Nordic skiing, and cold-weather survival, still lie in a wide valley between Red Cliff and Leadville. Riva Ridge, a popular ski run in Vail, is named after one of the division’s biggest battles, in the Apennine mountains of northern Italy.
“It’s just amazing that I’ve skied this run 10,000 times, and I didn’t know the background of the name.”
Anthony’s quest to unveil the hidden history of the 10th Mountain Division started about 17 years ago, when he worked with Warren Miller Entertainment on a film about the soldiers .
After completing hundreds of hours of interviews with veterans and their descendants, Anthony discovered that the 10th Mountain Division was fighting German troops in Italy up until April 30, 1945.
The 10th Mountain Division suffered heavy casualties—nearly 1,000 died—in multiple battles leading up to Germany’s surrender of their Italian campaign on May 2, 1945.
Though the war in Europe was largely over, the division was deployed to the border between Italy and what was then Yugoslavia; their mission was to keep Yugoslavian Dictator Josip Tito from invading Italy.
In early June on that high mountain border, the soldiers, anticipating that they would be deployed to the Pacific, organized a race with a giant slalom on the flanks of Mount Mangart to try and keep morale high in the division. Although many Americans were unaware of the history, the Slovenians very much knew the history, documented it, and eventually brought it to the attentions of Americans including Anthony.
Anthony learned about the race from a retired Slovenian general who met Anthony in northern Italy and “explained to me that the division was on the border in 1945,” he recalled, adding, “as far as I knew, they were already back in the United States.”
The Slovenian general ferried Anthony around, and, together, they matched old photos from the 10th Mountain Division with locations in Slovenia; the photos had been mislabeled. Through this and other research, Anthony learned about the Mount Mangart ski race.
The race was won by Walter Prager, who was a world champion before the war, and second place went to Steve Knowlton, an American born soldier who competed in the 1948 Olympics, opened an Aspen night club and helped found Colorado Ski Country USA, The Denver Post reported.
Anthony and his film crew recreated the ski race for “Mission Mt. Mangart,” wearing authentic uniforms and riding old wooden skis with cable bindings—gear that is much more difficult to control than are today’s skis.
“The equipment was terrible,” Anthony said. “And the snow conditions they skied on were horrible.”
I fell in love with the story, and I fell in love with the journey. ... As a kid, I always thought history was incredibly boring. But I think it was the way it was presented to us. The fact of the matter is that history and what humans have done is pretty magnificent.
Though he’s an expert skier, Anthony said he had “total respect” for the soldiers who skied on that equipment. “We’re spoiled (today) compared to that stuff. I did not feel safe on it,” he said.
Anthony explained the dual meaning of the title, “Mission Mt. Mangart.” After untold hours of research, interviews and poring through trunks of descendants’ grandfathers’ mementos, tying the story all together became “my mission,” Anthony said. It also became the 10th Mountain Division’s mission to move through Italy and get to Mount Mangart.
Anthony noted that proceeds from the film’s showings will benefit the Chris Anthony Youth Initiative Project, as well as any partnering outreach organizations. Anthony’s youth project aims to improve the quality of students’ lives by introducing them to educational enrichment opportunities.
Anthony said he is very excited that the CU Boulder Alumni Association is bringing the film to Boulder. “It feels good to come back to your alma mater and have something to share,” he said, adding that he would not have anticipated a decade ago that this project would have become a passion.
“I fell in love with the story, and I fell in love with the journey,” Anthony said. “As a kid, I always thought history was incredibly boring. But I think it was the way it was presented to us. The fact of the matter is that history and what humans have done is pretty magnificent.”
Originally, Anthony said, he thought the 10th Mountain Division story would simply be a “great 10-minute ski segment.” But “Mangart drew me in and just never let me go.”