Over the last weekend in February, a team of eight elite U.S. military mountaineers took on the Edelweiss Raid, a grueling two-day, 40-kilometer ski mountaineering race through the Austrian Alps that included 4,000 meters of elevation change. Over the course of the competition, teams had to traverse high consequence terrain and show their proficiency in challenging mountain rescue and military skill events. Team USA managed something no other team has before: They finished the race on their first try.
“The best part of the Raid for the team was achieving our goal of finishing with all eight participants” says Maj. Nathan Fry, a Vermont National Guardsman and training officer at the Army Mountain Warfare School in Vermont. “We took the race slow and steady, worked at everyone’s pace, and shared the load so that we could all cross the finish line together.”
All the training leading up to the Raid paid off for the U.S. team, as they were prepared for every obstacle they faced during the race. If anything surprised the team, it was the conditions they encountered in Austria.
Coming from Vermont, the team was accustomed to the notoriously unyielding New England weather. Training days regularly involved 30-40 mph winds, temperatures in the single digits, and skiing on New England powder, a.k.a. boiler plate ice.
In Austria, however, conditions couldn’t have been more different, with bluebird days and a late-spring snow pack that Maj. Fry described as heavy spring mashed potato snow.
The American team finished 13th out of 23 teams with a total time of 20:27:34. First and second place were taken by teams from Germany while third place went to an Austrian team.
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By approaching the race with a “slow and steady” mindset, the team ensured that they successfully completed every task. The Americans not only skied a clean race, but also left their mark in the competition during the shooting event, excelling with precision and skill, becoming one of only two teams to hit all their targets.
Even though the Raid is a highly competitive event, filled with teams racing to win, the overall atmosphere was one of camaraderie. From cheering for other teams as they arrived at the rest point and finish line to helping set up tents at the bivouac site, everyone payed it forward and lent a helping hand.
“I think all of us walked away from the competition realizing that we had certain areas that we could improve in,” says. Maj. Fry.
Race organizers were excited to have an American team at the event this year and encouraged them to return to the 2021 Raid with two teams.
“We hope to make [the Edelweiss Raid] a staple in the mountain warfare community because of the individual growth, the camaraderie on an international level, and the ability to test ourselves and see if we measure up against the benchmark that our international partners are setting,” Maj. Fry says.
Moving forward, the American team aims to place in the top 10. To do so they plan to dedicate more time and engage in more serious training events to return even more prepared than they were this year.
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For more information about military mountaineering check out: 10th Mountain Division , US Army Fort Drum: Home of the 10th Mountain Division