503rd Parachute Battalion
Photos courtesy of: Alan Engen Ski History Collection
In honor of Veteran’s Day, here’s are some photos of Company B of the 503rd Parachute Battalion that trained at Alta in 1942. Before the creation of the famed 10th Mountain Division, the 503rd sent 175 paratroopers to train for potential on-snow combat in the Alps.
In order to train the Company B of the 503rd from Fort Benning Georgia, the Army recruited Dick Durrance, head of the Alta Ski School and manager of the Alta Lodge. Durrance enlisted the help of eleven ski instructors, consisting mostly of ski racing friends, family members and Alta ski instructors, to teach 175 soldiers -- some of whom had never seen snow -- to ski and navigate in the high alpine. The troops learned mountain travel, snow camping, parachute landings on snow, and downhill ski techniques.
After the conclusion of six weeks of training, Durrance was quoted “the end of that winter we came to the conclusion that maybe a third of them would become pretty good skiers, the middle third could get by, and the remaining third had better stay in the paratroopers and forget it.”
While Company B of the 503rd Battalion never saw on-snow warfare, the concept of a skiing light infantry was later proven to be a monumental success with the creation of the Tenth Mountain Division.
For further reading on the 503rd Battalion training at Alta, check out he following links: