A sense of history and a passion for skiing led Gene Glasunow to be the driving force behind the creation of a new trail that honors the men of the 10th Mountain Division.
Opened this season, the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Trail is part of the network of skiing and snowshoeing trails maintained by the Mount Tahoma Trails Association.
The trail recognizes the efforts and achievements of the men who fought in one of the Army’s most famous units in World War II, a unit that got its start on the slopes of Mount Rainier.
The trail, on an old logging road, starts about one mile above the association’s Copper Creek Hut near Ashford. It’s about five miles from the Forest Service Road 92 Sno-Park.
It’s an easy-to-moderate trail, branching off the Rainier Vista Trail, gradually climbing to a mountain ridge, about 4,700 feet in elevation. The trail follows the unnamed ridge – although Glasunow has taken to calling it Ski Trooper Ridge – for a mile or so.
“On a clear day you can see Mount Hood, the entire Olympics range, see into the crater of Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and world-class views of Mount Rainier,” Glasunow said.
TOUCHED BY HISTORY
Finding a means of honoring the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division grew from Glasunow’s love for winter sports and what he learned of the unit from an old boss and the time he lived in Colorado.
Glasunow went to work in 1966 as a broadcast engineer for WWLP-TV, an NBC affiliate in Feeding Hills, Mass. It was the station owner/general manager who sparked Glasunow’s interest in the outdoors.
William Lowell Putnam, the station owner, was a former 10th Mountain ski trooper and an avid mountain climber who climbed throughout the Canadian Rockies.
“His exploits inspired me to get outdoors,” Glasunow said.
Glasunow’s interest in the division was piqued even more when he took a job in Denver in 1977. He learned more about the division’s exploits when he visited the ski museum in Vail, Colo., and Camp Hale outside Leadville, Colo., where the division trained after leaving Mount Rainier and Fort Lewis.
“It just fascinated me what the 10th Mountain Division did to the ski industry after World War II. They started over 60 ski areas, were ski patrollers, they really propelled the infant ski industry here to what it is today,” he said.
While Glasunow was living in Colorado, work began on a series of backcountry huts between Aspen and Vail. The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association now maintains 29 huts available year-round.
The idea of locally honoring the soldiers of the 10th came up after Glasunow moved to the Puget Sound in 1990. He was hiking at Paradise and noticed a bronze plaque on a boulder which commemorated the birth of the ski troops at Mount Rainier. “So you had this hut system in Colorado, and the only thing we had was this bronze plaque. I said, ‘There has to be more.’ ”
The Puyallup resident’s original thought was to build another hut along the MTTA’s trails. Glasunow has volunteered with the association for 10 years as a Nordic ski patrol member.
But he switched to the idea for the trail when hopes of building a yurt literally went up in smoke. In March 2008, the MTTA’s Snowbowl hut burned to the ground. Plans for a new yurt were “put on the back burner because the attention was on rebuilding Snowbowl Hut,” Glasunow said. “So when I discovered this trail, I thought maybe we could start with a trail.
“I thought it would be a good addition to the trail system and a good memorial to the troops. I wanted to see something that would be a joy and benefit to other people.”
“I felt there should be something more dedicated to the birth of the ski troops,” he said.
WORTH THE TRIP
Ken Guza of Olympia has skied the memorial trail and recommends it for the views and quiet.
“The majority of people who use Copper Creek Hut stay within a short distance of the hut. So when you get this distance out, you have a lot of solitude and peace,” he said.
“There is a lot of good ridge skiing, without a lot of company, on easy to intermediate terrain,” he added.
Bob Myrick of Tacoma thinks the trail is a great addition to the MTTA system, especially for those people staying at the nearby hut.
“I found it to be pretty darn easy. This trail does have an uphill, but it is really gentle,” Myrick said. “There are some incredible views when you get out on the ridge. It’s quite spectacular.”
Guza and Myrick said the memorial trail could be done as a day trip.
“A more fit person can get that far if they’re just coming up for the day. You could get there in a day if you applied yourself,” Myrick said.
“I try to encourage people to stay at least one night. If you spend one night, you could get out there and back and still make it back to your car before dark,” he added.
One person who wishes he could ski the trail is Gordon Dick, who fought with the division in World War II.
“I wish that my own physical ability was such that I could try it. I’m 89 now. I still may try it,” said the Seattle resident.
Dick said he appreciates Glasunow’s effort and likes the idea of a memorial ski trail.
“It should be a related to the outdoors, it should be related to something where it gives people an opportunity to do something like this, continue it if they’ve done it before or to try something new,” Dick said.
“Most of the younger people are into downhill (skiing) and snowboarding. Yet, there is something that captures the imagination and seems a little bit different about cross-country skiing,” he said.
Fellow 10th Mountain Division veteran Hans Thompson, now 85, said he would wait to see how he recovers from hip replacement surgery before giving thought to trying the trail. But he didn’t rule it out. “I think it’s a great idea. It memorializes for future generations that we were involved in advancing winter sports like skiing, that we had a commendable combat record in Italy,” the Vashon Island resident said.
“I think it is one of those things that ties in with the fact that the initial (10th Mountain) volunteers were all skiers,” Thompson added. “We also like the fact that we will be remembered by future skiers.”
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640