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Elite US Military Mountaineers Take On 2019 Edelweiss Raid

For the first time American mountaineers will participate in the prestigious international mountaineering competition.

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Nestled in the idyllic valleys of Tyrol, Austria—a western state in Austria known for its ski resorts, towering peaks, and historic sites—sits the mountain sub-range known as the Tux Alps. These peaks mark the site of the largest international military mountaineering competition in the world: the Edelweiss Raid.

A European event staple, the Edelweiss Raid brings together the top mountain units from across Europe to test their skills in a highly demanding two-day race. The mountain units of Europe are some of the most revered military teams on the continent and looked upon with the same respect as American special ops teams. For the first time in the event’s history, the United States was invited to compete in this year’s Raid, which takes place Feb. 27-28. 

“We’re setting ourselves up to work with some of the most revered units within the European army”, says Maj. Nathan Fry, a Vermont National Guardsman and training officer at the Army Mountain Warfare School.

Teams from Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Russia, Italy, France, and the United States will compete in this year’s competition, representing a varied community of mountain troops.

Beyond giving countries the opportunity to test and showcase mountain warfare skills, the Edelweiss Raid fosters a sense of community between nations, and gives participating countries a forum to share unique mountaineering skills with each other. The host country, Austria, has been known as the leader in creating tough and realistic events as part of its Mountain Training Initiative.

The U.S. team practices their avalanche search and rescue skills in preparation for the Raid. Photo courtesy of Scott Stone

The Edelweiss Raid is a demanding 40-kilometer ski mountaineering race that includes about 4,000 meters of elevation change over two days. Teams not only have to complete the course, but also accomplish several challenges that are common to missions in high alpine surroundings. Some of the technical challenges the teams must perform are standard for mountaineering expeditions—i.e. skinning, avalanche search and rescue, rappelling—while others are more military oriented like high angle shooting and caring for a casualty.

The extraordinarily demanding competition requires an ability to march on skis in full battle dress, elite skiing and technical alpine skills, and a high stamina level. Teams are judged on both speed and accuracy, incentivizing strong performances in each challenge. The team with the shortest time over the two days, including the completion of all the assigned tasks, wins the competition.

The U.S. team, new to the scene this year, is comprised of the best of the best from around the country. While the European countries field professional teams that have been training for and competing in this event for years, the U.S. is bringing something new. Because the Americans are located around the country, they only meet up twice for a collective training session before heading to Austria at the end of February for a last-minute training session before the event. 

The U.S team traverses over terrain that’s usually avoided on skis. Photo courtesy of Hunter Cote

“It’s been really difficult for us to train collectively so our strategy has been to pick people with the discipline to train on their own,” says Maj. Fry. The U.S. team includes a two-time former Olympic athlete, two ski mountaineering racers, and a couple of instructors for the Army Mountain Warfare School. In other words, the Team America members may not have trained much specifically for the Raid, but they’re well-versed in various aspects of ski mountaineering. 

This year the U.S. team’s goal is to finish the race, something no first-year team has ever done. With a focus on accuracy over speed, they hope to execute all the challenges cleanly and maintain a steady pace throughout the race.

“This is a learning race for us this year and ideally, in the future years, we will be able to go back and be more competitive”, says Maj. Fry. 

With their talented team, motivation, and preparation, the U.S. team enters the scene for the first time ready to take on the course and show their military mountaineering skills on an international platform.

For more information about military mountaineering check out: 10th Mountain Division , US Army Fort Drum: Home of the 10th Mountain Division