On Sunday, February 18, skiers paid tribute to the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division with the Ninety-Pound Rucksack Challenge in three locations around the country: New York, Colorado and Wyoming.

The ski mountaineering event, which marked the seventy-ninth anniversary of the Division’s night-time ascent of Riva Ridge in Italy’s Apennine mountains, garnered headlines from Jackson Hole to the US Defence Department.

The 10th was an elite cadre of World War II skiers and mountaineers who trained for more than three years—often carrying ninety-pound ‘rucksacks,’ or backpacks—to fight the Axis powers in extreme cold and mountainous terrain. 

Their ascent of Riva Ridge, which entailed carrying fifty-pound packs up 1,500 to 2,500 feet of vertical gain, helped precipitate the German surrender of Italy, hastening the end of the war. Post-war, 10th Mountain Division veterans started companies like NOLS and Nike, launched the fields of avalanche science and wilderness rescue and founded or developed more than 60 ski areas around America, including Steamboat, Vail, Arapahoe Basin and Jackson’s Snow King Mountain.

The Ninety-Pound Rucksack Challenge kicked off on the east coast at 7 pm EST at Lake Placid’s Whiteface Mountain, where early incarnations of the 10th learned to ski. Some 40 participants ascended from the base lodge at 1,220’ to the summit of Little Whiteface at 3,676’—an ascent of 2,440 feet. 

The event continued two hours later in the Rocky Mountains, where participants began their ascents at 7 pm MST in two areas with connections to the Division.

At Ski Cooper, Colorado, where the 10th trained at Camp Hale, a dozen participants ascended  some 1,200 feet from the base area at 10,500 feet to the 11,700-foot summit. Pete Siebert, Jr., whose father, Pete Siebert, participated in the Riva Ridge action as part of the 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment’s F Company and went on to found the Vail ski area, carried 40 pounds of dog food as part of his tribute.

The Ski Cooper leg also featured Chris Anthony, director of the 10th film Mission Mt. Mangart, as well as members from the 10th Mountain Division’s Mountain Training Group. Anthony made a video about the Ski Cooper leg here.

The 10th Mountain Division’s motto was, and is, “Climb to Glory.” On Mt. Glory in Jackson Hole, nearly a dozen participants ascended amidst blustery conditions from the top of Teton Pass at 8,400 feet to the 10,059-foot summit—a vertical relief of 1,659 feet in just one mile. 

Christian Beckwith, the creator and host of Ninety-Pound Rucksack, a podcast about the 10th Mountain Division and its impact on American outdoor recreation, organized the event in partnership with the 10th Mountain Alpine Club, which supports the 10th Mountain Division in its military mountaineering endeavors. He carried some 80 pounds up Mt. Glory as part of his ascent.

“Every step of the way, I thought back to the original soldiers and the loads they used to carry as part of their training, as well as their nighttime action on Riva Ridge. The experience gave me an insight into their tenacity and fortitude as well as an increased appreciation for their contributions to American skiing.”

Planning is already in the works to include additional ski areas in the 2025 Challenge. 

“We’d like to see every ski area that was founded or developed by 10th Mountain Division veterans participate in the Challenge eventually,” said Beckwith. “Doing so will allow modern skiers around the country to honor the Division while paying tribute to their contributions to American skiing.”