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Military Injuries Highlight Avalanche Risk

Safety experts said the risk for snow slides remains high following this week’s heavy snow

Three Army soldiers injured Wednesday when an avalanche struck their Vermont training site remain in the hospital, according to the Vermont National Guard.

The snow slide injured six soldiers, who were swept away while learning ropes skills and winter survival techniques as part of a specialized mountain warfare school.

They were carried through a gully in Smugglers’ Notch a distance longer than three football fields, the Guard said Wednesday, but were not buried and did not lose consciousness.

Five of the soldiers needed treatment at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

Thursday, the military said two soldiers have been discharged and three remain in the hospital. Two were listed in good condition as of midday Thursday, and one was listed in fair condition, according to the Guard.

The case is now highlighting the risk of avalanches in New England, which experts say is running high in certain places, following this week’s heavy snowfall.

“It’s very dangerous conditions,” said Doug Veliko of Stowe Mountain Rescue, noting snow fell on top of a layer of ice in many places, heightening the avalanche risk. “Every five years or so, we run into this high avalanche danger. Anything that has any pitch is likely to slide.”

He and the Vermont Department of Public Safety have urged skiers or snowboarders to stay away from remote unpatrolled terrain, especially land with limited tree cover.

They point to Wednesday’s avalanche that injured the six Army soldiers training in Smugglers’ Notch, or to the 2005 death of extreme skier Alec Stall, who was filming video off-trail in the Stowe area when a slide swept him off a ledge to his death.

“My terrain selection would be incredibly conservative,” avid back-country skier Jamie Struck said of decisions he’d make were he to go skiing this week.

Struck works at Outdoor Gear Exchange on Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace, and advises other back-country skiers to always stick with buddies, and to carry a homing beacon which could help them find you if you get buried.

A collapsible snow probe and shovel are other tools Struck calls must-haves for that brand of outdoor exploration.

However, nothing is better than strong knowledge of terrain and conditions ahead of time, Struck told necn.

“There’s all sorts of great ways to find you when something goes wrong,” he said of devices such as the homing beacon. “It’s what you can do to prepare yourself before you need to be found–that’s what saves everybody.”

The Vermont Department of Public Safety said Wednesday that for now, it’s best to simply stay within patrolled boundaries of ski areas.

Over the last week, public safety officials said, incidents at Bolton Valley and Killington saw more than 30 skiers and snowboarders needing rescue when they left the marked boundaries of the resorts’ trails and couldn’t get back to where they needed to be.

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