Six U.S. Army soldiers were caught in an avalanche on Wednesday at the Army Mountain Warfare School near Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont. According to a statement released on the Vermont National Guard’s Facebook page, none of the soldiers sustained life threatening injuries. Five of the soldiers have been hospitalized, however, with the sixth able to return to duty.

At just after 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday, the six soldiers were training in an area known as Easy Gully in Smugglers’ Notch as a part of the Advanced Course of the Army Mountain Warfare School. Easy Gully, a narrow pass at the edge of Vermont’s highest mountain, Mount Mansfield, could be called anything but easy. With steep cliffs and harsh winter weather, the Advanced Course at the school run by the Vermont National Guard can be arduous enough, however, the Vermont Department of Public Safety recently released an advisory saying that the slew of recent storms to hit the Northeast have resulted in “extremely unstable conditions in steep terrain” like that found in Easy Gully.  The area around the gully is said to have received more than nine inches of snow the day prior to the avalanche alone.

According to statements released in local news outlet, The Burlington Free Press, the soldiers were dragged along the ground for at least 300 meters by the wave of snow and ice, but were not buried. The injured soldiers were said to be conscious and alert when help arrived. According to a statement made by a spokesman for the Vermont National Guard, it took only about ten minutes to locate the injured soldiers. They were evacuated from the mountain itself in just under two hours, as the soldiers were carried down the mountain to waiting ambulances for transfer to a local medical facility.

The injured soldiers were taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, though no details regarding their condition have been released beyond stating that the nature of their injuries were not life threatening. Their identities have not been been released to the public yet.

It is currently unclear what type of training the soldiers were participating in at the time of the avalanche, but Easy Gully is a common place for a number of cold weather training exercises, including ice climbing on the steep walls of the gully.

Located in Jericho, Vermont, the Army Mountain Warfare School is run by the Vermont National Guard and, according to their website, “provides tactical and technical training for mountain warfare and cold weather operations.”

A number of other small avalanches have been reported in the area as well, prompting the United States National Weather Service to issue a warning. “Recent heavy snowfall combined with previous warm-ups have created the potential for avalanches in the exposed back country of the Green Mountains in Vermont and the Adirondacks in northern New York,” it stated.

The soldiers caught in Wednesday’s avalanche aren’t the only people to have been injured as a result of treacherous conditions following a series of snow storms battering the region. According to Vermont State Police, the state’s search and rescue teams have responded to dozens of calls in recent weeks. “Incidents at Bolton Valley and Killington over the last week alone have resulted in over 30 skiers and snowboarders requiring rescue,” Neil Van Dyke, the search and rescue coordinator for Vermont State Police, said.


Image courtesy of the National Guard