Several U.S. Army soldiers are recovering from injuries suffered in northern New England, after a fast-moving avalanche struck, then carried them through a gully in Vermont.
Sgt. Nathan Rivard of the Vermont National Guard said the snow slide struck a gully in Smugglers’ Notch, where a mountain warfare school was training on specialized skills including winter survival and rappelling.
The avalanche swept the soldiers a distance greater than three football fields in length, Rivard said, noting that the victims were not buried.
Five of the six injured soldiers needed treatment at the University of Vermont Medical Center, Rivard said.
“In 10 minutes, everyone was located and the people that were injured were all conscious and coherent the entire time,” Rivard told NBC 10 Boston. “They were removed from the mountain within an hour and 40 minutes, which is quite the feat to get them off the mountain that quickly.”
Rivard described the injuries as “non-life-threatening.”
Public safety officials are now urging folks to stay away from steep terrain without heavy tree cover.
Conditions are unstable following this week’s deep snow that covered earlier layers which had thawed then refroze, according to the Vermont Department of Public Safety.
“I’ve never been over there,” backcountry snowboarder Scott Witt said of the area known as Easy Gully, where the avalanche happened. “A friend of mine’s been over there. It’s sketchy. With this much snow we’ve had, it’s sketchy—it’s dangerous.”
But nearby ski resorts are drawing a distinction between rugged out-of-bounds areas and groomed slopes.
"What’s going on in-bounds, conditions are fantastic. Ski patrol is there and they’re well-trained in making sure the terrain is safe for people to travel on, and if ever it’s unsafe, they’ll close it,” said Mike Chait of Smugglers’ Notch Resort.
Rivard said the affected students and instructors had all trained on what to do in case of an avalanche. One survival skill he described amounted to basically “swimming” through the slide.
Those skills likely prevented worse injuries, Rivard said.
Training in the gully is over for the week, but will continue at the Army Mountain Warfare School’s indoors facility in Jericho through the rest of the week.
Rivard could not say when the soldiers would be released from the hospital, but said the military is very grateful that the injuries did not threaten the lives of the students or instructors.
Rivard also praised local first responders for their hard work and assistance during the emergency.