Alps & Meters has always looked to the 10th Mountain Division for inspiration. In fact, one of our newest pieces is based on the canvas Anoraks that were standard issue for the men of the 10th in the 1940's. Originally conceived as a light infantry unit for combat in mountain and arctic environments, the division was activated in 1943, and fought during WWII in the mountainous terrain of Italy and Austria.
On Location in Warren, Vermont. Photo: Shem Roose
Recruits were selected by the National Ski Patrol, and to ready for deployment, trained at Camp Hale in Colorado's Rocky Mountains to prepare for the strenuous climbing, skiing, and hiking that awaited them abroad. After returning from deployment, more than a few veterans of the 10th settled in the Rockies, where they set out to found Vail, Aspen, and many other resorts and ski schools across the country.
Soldiers train at Camp Hale, Colorado
The 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company, founded by a descendant of an original 10th Soldier opened not far from Camp Hale in 2014. Having met over an après beer in the late 90's, partners Christian Avignon and Ryan Thompson, both Vail locals and ski enthusiasts, aimed to create a distillery that honored the men of the 10th and created craft spirits using local ingredients.
Avignon's late grandfather, a skier named Fred Vetter moved from his home in upstate New York to join the division in 1943, and later was deployed to the Italian Appenines to serve as a field medic. Fred's skis hang above the bar at the distillery's tasting room in Vail Village.
Christian Avignon and Ryan Thompson
In their own words, "The 10th Mountain Whiskey and Spirit Company is an extension of the mountain lifestyle, bringing together the old with the new. Generation after generation, men and women alike, all share this same passion, enjoying it for a day, a weekend, a lifetime, or somewhere in between. No matter how long it’s embraced the combination of friends, mountains, memories and spirits, bring people together like no other.
To encourage these relationships, to embrace the mountain lifestyle and to honor the 10th Mountain soldiers who inspired our way of life, we created a tribute spirit company in Vail, Colorado. Not only is it a tribute to the 10th Mountain soldier, but it is also a tribute to those that enjoy the mountain lifestyle, living it fully, every day."
The pair are set apart by their use of Colorado grains and potatoes, but Ryan and Christian also take an innovative approach to aging and maturing their spirits, as well. "After we barrel them, we drive them from Denver to Leadville, which is a 5,000-foot change in elevation. In summer, we’ll go over the higher passes, like Independence. This changes the pressurization in the barrels, and opens the pores in the oak, which allows for more transfer and complexity of flavor" says Ryan.
Their tasting room serves flights of their whiskey, bourbon, moonshine, and cordial, as well as a few cocktails daily. "Ryan and I believe that the mountains bring out the fun in people, create lifelong memories, and spirits and après culture are a part of that. Part of our mission is to educate people about the 10th Mountain Division. Our tasting room has a lot of artifacts, including my grandfather’s original skis over the bar. We want people to understand that the 10th is why we’re all here (in Vail) today” says Christian.
We are thrilled to be partnering with 10th Mountain Whiskey Co. on an event or two this winter. If you happen to find yourself in the neighborhood, swing by their tasting room at 286 Bridge Street in Vail Village.