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Filmmaker and skier Chris Anthony is on a 'mission' to share the story of 10th Mountain Division troopers at Mt. Mangart

Crews work to recreate a 1945 ski race on Mt. Mangart on the Italy-Slovenia border for the production of Chris Anthony's "Mission Mt. Mangart," a documentary about 10th Mountain Division troopers in World War II. The film screens at the Wheeler Opera House on Nov. 14.
Courtesy of Chris Anthony
Crews work to recreate a 1945 ski race on Mt. Mangart on the Italy-Slovenia border for the production of Chris Anthony's "Mission Mt. Mangart," a documentary about 10th Mountain Division troopers in World War II. The film screens at the Wheeler Opera House on Nov. 14.

About a decade ago, in a partnership between Warren Miller Entertainment and the Colorado Snowsports Museum, extreme skier Chris Anthony helped develop a segment on the 10th Mountain Division ski troopers of World War II that would evolve into the documentary “Climb to Glory.”

The museum would screen the film. But one day, a retired brigadier general from Slovenia — which used to be part of the former Yugoslavia — noticed the display didn’t tell the whole story.

“What he noticed was missing was any bit of the story about when the 10th Mountain Division ended up on the Yugoslavian border near the end of World War II,” Anthony said.

So the brigadier general tracked Anthony down, or tried to, anyway, and left a manuscript at a hotel in Northern Italy where Anthony often stays for ski and bike trips.

The manuscript sat there for a year before Anthony got his hands on it, then sat on Anthony’s coffee table for almost another year before he read the title and recognized a building in a drawing on the cover.

The drawing was labeled as 10th Mountain Division Headquarters from May to July of 1945, in a village in the northeastern corner of Italy where Anthony had never been able to confirm the presence of 10th Mountain Division troopers before. He “immediately” dove into the manuscript, “trying to figure out the puzzle of it,” Anthony said.

At the center of the puzzle was a craggy peak called “Mt. Mangart,” located high in the Julian Alps on the border between Italy and Yugoslavia, where 10th Mountain Division troopers held a ski race in June of 1945.

What followed was nearly seven years of research and production for Anthony’s film “Mission Mt. Mangart,” which is now on tour and screening at the Wheeler Opera House on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

With only still photos to work with but an abundance of enthusiastic Slovenians willing to help honor the history of Mt. Mangart, Anthony recreated the race with 21st-century skiers decked out in army garb and equipment fit for the 1940s.

Anthony thought at the time that this would just be a ski movie, but research when he returned home revealed a much larger story of the troopers who would return to America and jump-start the country’s ski and outdoor industries after a traumatic time at war.

Anthony said he fell into a rabbit hole of research when he returned from the ski race filming, and discovered a trove of untold history about the 10th Mountain Division that factors into the film.

“That hand that was guiding this whole process, it's by fate,” he said. “I had no agenda for it at all. My original plan was to talk about the ski race. That's it. And then I just got taken for a ride, and I just rode with it.”

What emerged was a story of young outdoorsmen and women, many of them immigrants, who volunteered for the 10th Mountain Division to defend what Anthony recognizes as a “unique” way of life.

“They saw the opportunities here, so much so that they were willing to lay their lives down on the line to protect it,” Anthony said.

He sees the story as “symbolic” of the foundations of the United States, but also recognizes how that history can fade after several generations tuning out of textbook history. That’s why he hopes “Mission Mt. Mangart” will entertain people as it informs them of the history of the 10th Mountain Division.

“You saw the ugliest stuff that we could ever see, but through all the battles that they went through, made it to the end, and came back and helped build our country,” Anthony said.

Anthony has spent decades as a professional skier. Producing this film has changed his perspective on the sport and on America, too, he said.

“I don't know if we’re exactly respecting what was given to us,” Anthony said.

“How we live now, the opportunities that we have now, the infrastructure that we have now, the freedoms that we have now, those did not come without great, great sacrifice,” he said. “And I think I took it for granted.”

Yes, “Mission Mt. Mangart” is a World War II documentary, and one that has educational purposes. Ticket proceeds even serve as a fundraiser for Anthony’s Youth Initiative Project, and other partner organizations.

But, at its heart, Anthony acknowledged it’s still a film about skiing and about a love of the outdoors worth fighting for.

“They were people that enjoyed life, enjoyed recreation and enjoyed freedom … They want to be on the mountain playing, they want to be amongst each other, sharing the outdoors gliding down about climbing up a mountain,” Anthony said. “And so much so that their zest for life is obviously magnificent, because they get to enjoy the freedom of climbing or skiing.”

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.