Pro Skier-Filmmaker's WWII Documentary Comes to the Screen
Eight years after starring in Warren Miller Entertainment’s 10th Mountain Division docu-drama, Climb to Glory, professional skier Chris Anthony has landed an altogether different leading role: editing, writing, financing, and producing his first independent documentary film, Mission Mt. Mangart.
It all began in 2014, when, a year after the release of Climb to Glory, Anthony had returned to the Italian Alps, which he considers his home away from Vail. Janez Kavar, a retired Slovenian brigadier general and historian, left a manuscript at Anthony’s hotel recounting an unusual ski race on the Italian/Yugoslavian border during the final days of World War II, a lost chapter in the 10th’s well-documented European tour.
“I’m not sure how the general came about tracking me down in Italy or why he did it,” says Anthony, a 2018 Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame inductee who also serves as executive director of the Chris Anthony Youth Initiative Project, a nonprofit that provides mentorship, outdoor education, and scholarship opportunities to middle schoolers across the state. “He must have seen a glimpse of a connection between me and the potential of sharing the story with the world, or at least with those in the United States.”
The epic event happened in the wake of Germany’s surrender in Italy, when the 10th, an international mix of allied mountain troops, was ordered to advance eastward from Lake Garda into the Julian Alps and push Tito’s Yugoslavian army back across the border. Facing heavy opposition before successfully driving the Yugoslavian army out of Italy, the troopers held the line, keeping watch over high alpine peaks straddling the border between Italy and then-Yugoslavia. Skiers long before they were soldiers, they gazed upon the snow-covered flanks of Mt. Mangart—at 8,789 feet, it’s the third-highest summit in Slovenia—and instinctively knew what they had to do. On June 3, 1945, the soldiers of the 10th strapped boots to skis (gear they had confiscated from captured German ski troopers) and held their first divisional downhill race since the onset of the war, an inspirational lift to the spirits of the infantrymen who, a month after the war had officially ended in Europe, still had not returned home.
“The ski race was the catalyst that motivated me to go down the rabbit hole,” says Anthony, an Avon resident. “From the moment I was introduced to the event, I was put on a path that took me in multiple directions of discovery that I would never have [taken] without this story. The title Mission Mt. Mangart has multiple meanings: the journey of the 10th Mountain Division, as well as my journey. This was a mission of self-discovery as much as it was putting together a history puzzle.”
With funding from private donors and logistical support from NATO, the Slovenian Ministry of Defense, and the United States Embassy in Slovenia, as well as assistance from Janez Kavar, Anthony traveled to the slopes of Mt. Mangart to film a re-creation of the historic race. Local volunteers helped clear avalanches and rockslides along the route for Anthony's production team—an army unto itself—which raced the onset of inclement weather to film the pivotal scene. In all, it took Anthony seven and a half years to finally bring his passion project to the big screen.
Juxtaposing the innocence of the ski race against the violence of war, Mission Mt. Mangart attempts to bring the heroism and humanity of the mountain troopers to life by combining location shoots with in-depth interviews and first-person narration from veterans recounting the division’s adventures from 1939 to 1945. Anthony recruited Valley native Mikaela Shiffrin to tell the story of Deborah Bankart, a ski instructor who helped select the first 10th Mountain Division soldiers, and who followed the troopers to the front lines in Italy as a volunteer with the American Red Cross.
“We talked about the idea of her being the one to tell Bankart’s story in the documentary,” says Anthony, a longtime friend of the Olympian. “Again, fate intervened, and Mikaela agreed.”
The film also shines a spotlight on the 25 soldiers from the 10th who were lost when their amphibious landing craft sank during the Battle of Torbole, a skirmish that was fought on and around Italy’s Lake Garda on the night of April 29, 1945. By chance, their boat was discovered at the bottom of the lake in 2017, and Anthony was able to film and conduct interviews on location and add a powerful footnote to Mission Mt. Mangart. Fittingly, the 70-minute film premiered on November 11—Veterans Day—with a screening at Denver’s Boettcher Concert Hall, where the Colorado Symphony performed original music from the film.
“These men were tough and moved through hard obstacles with so much more grace than we do today,” says Anthony. “They showed so much character as well as set a bar so high that no other generation has come close to living up to it.”
After seeing this benchmark project to the finish, Anthony allows that his plan for the near future is “to finally enjoy the moment for a bit.”