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Explore Booksellers panel will thumb through the pages of conservation and ski history

Sgt. Harry Poschman skis at Camp Hale in 1943 as part of a mountain training group for 10th Mountain Division soldiers.
Greg Poschman
/
Courtesy photo
Sgt. Harry Poschman skis at Camp Hale in 1943 as part of a mountain training group for 10th Mountain Division soldiers. His son Greg will share a history of Camp Hale and moderate a panel at Explore Booksellers on Thursday.

Not every soldier who fought in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II emerged as a conservationist.

But according to Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman, many key figures who championed preserving the natural environment came out of that cohort of ski troopers.

“So much of our contemporary ski industry and outdoor recreation industry and conservation culture in the United States has come from these returning veterans, many from the 10th Mountain Division,” Poschman said in a Zoom interview Monday.

Poschman, who considers himself an amateur historian, has a personal connection to the past. His late father, Harry, was a member of the 10th Mountain Division and taught skiing to the troopers at Camp Hale, the training grounds near Leadville that President Joe Biden recently designated as a national monument.

Poschman will moderate a panel at Explore Booksellers on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. Participants will draw connections between the history of the 10th Mountain Division, the foundations of the outdoor industry and the ongoing efforts to preserve public lands.

The other speakers on the panel will be Wilderness Workshop’s executive director, Will Roush; Aspen Skiing Co.'s senior sustainability and philanthropy manager, Hannah Berman; and Aspen Historical Society’s vice president of education and programming, Nina Gabiannelli.

“We’re going to have people who can speak about the contemporary effect of what happened and the consequences of Camp Hale’s designation,” Poschman said. “And we can also talk about the history of the 10th Mountain Division and Camp Hale and all the people on whose shoulders we stand as we try to preserve public lands and keep this amazing ski town of ours going.”

Poschman counts local and national figures on the list of 10th Mountain Division troopers who made an impact on environmental conservation and the outdoor industry in the 20th century.

Those include environmentalists such as David Brower, the first executive director of the Sierra Club, and Bob Lewis, who founded the Independence Pass Foundation and the Wildwood School, as well as outdoor educators such as mountaineer Paul Petzoldt.

Then there are the ski industry pioneers and Aspen characters such as Friedl Pfeifer, Pete Seibert, Steve Knowlton and “so many others,” too. (Poschman lists enough names to fill a pocket-sized phone book of outdoorsmen.)

There is even Poschman’s father, “who certainly was part of this generation who wanted to build a ski industry, … but he also had a deep appreciation for wildlife in nature, as did most of these people,” Poschman said.

“I think they all had an incredible respect for our shared public lands and a concern about preserving them.”

That appreciation came in part from the healing effects that the outdoors could provide to soldiers traumatized by the violence of World War II, said Poschman.

“What they had been through in the war was so horrendous that many of them didn’t even speak of it for 30 years," he said. "The ones that we knew, anyway, came back and gravitated toward nature. They sought skiing, they sought nature, they sought the solace of wild open spaces and they understood the healing effects.”

Poschman believes a culture of protecting the outdoors is still strong in our community today, decades after the 10th Mountain Division soldiers first returned to the mountains of Colorado.

“You have people who really do understand the fragility of our watersheds and the natural resources we have here, and the need to preserve them,” Poschman said. “Thankfully, we have that, and what’s great is to start making those connections with our forefathers who began working to protect and preserve these areas.”

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Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.