Stowe Mountain Rescue Is Ready to Respond This Winter

Winter Weather Week

STOWE, Vt. - As skiers, riders and mountain hikers gear up for winter weather, Stowe Mountain Rescue is preparing to be there if, and when, people run into trouble.

You hope you never have to call on them, but they're ready to respond, no matter what.
Year round, life in Vermont is all about the outdoors. Even in the thick of winter, the beautiful back country draws people in.
Tom Rogers of Stowe Mountain Rescue says, "Last winter was kind of a bust generally for weather; but late in January we did have some nice weather weather. We probably got six calls in about two weeks."
We all hope if never happens, but when you get lost or hurt in the woods, Stowe Mountain Rescue is there.
"Everybody comes to the team with general outdoor skills and the ability to be comfortable and safe in the back country," Rogers says of the team. "But everybody has their niches, their different types of experiences."
SMR Chief Doug Veliko cautions outdoor enthusiasts, "The mountains are a phenomenal asset, but you have to be careful. You have to take the time, assess your situation and plan your trip."
On a cool and damp November morning, Skytracker Meteorologist Amanda Lindquist joined the team as they brushed up on navigational skills in preparation for winter. First, they poured over maps in a classroom; then, they used GPS coordinates to practice a grid search. The Chief tells me they want to prepared for any and all situations.
Of people who get into trouble, Veliko explains, "They often don't realize they're standing on top of a real mountain. It's not an amusement park. When they leave the boundaries of the ski area, it seems pretty benign as they see ski tracks go off. But you're entering a wilderness, you're leaving a resort."
We all know winter weather in Vermont's mountains can be difficult. It presents a whole new set of challenges for the team to consider when someone's life is on the line.
Rogers warns, "Winter in Vermont sticks around a lot longer in the higher elevations than it does in the valleys. So there are days when we're going out on a rescue in early May and it's already leaf out, there are green leaves. It's beautiful. It's Spring. The tops of the mountains, there's still snow and ice. And I think a lot of people go out in their sneakers and t-shirts expecting it to be like that at the top."
Veliko adds, "Someone who turns an ankle and is out by themselves in winter time, it doesn't take long for them to get hypothermia and become unresponsive."
From bitter cold and icy trails, to strong winds and poor visibility. The team has to be prepared for just about anything the weather throws their way.
About one such rescue, Veliko says, "It took us one night about a half an hour to locate a trail head we were within probably 50 yards of; and we found the trail head by literally bumping into the sign."
Preparation is key...
"Usually on every call I talk to the National Weather Service before we leave the station to get a spot forecast for where we're going," says Veliko.
But so is relying on those outdoor skills and the knowledge earned on training days.
"The first think you've got to do is put the brakes on. You've got to squelch that adrenaline because you have to be thinking clearly," elaborates Veliko.
So why do they do it?
At the end of a rescue, Rogers says, "When you finally pass them off to the ambulance that's just an elation feeling. You're just so excited that you're able to help somebody out."
"I've got skills that can help people in the wilderness and it's my way to give back," explains Veliko.
"If it's my daughters out there in the woods someday that break an ankle or get lost, I want teams like this available that can help them," adds Rogers.
Stowe Mountain Rescue wants to remind everyone heading into the mountains this winter to respect the outdoors, by knowing your own limits and being prepared. It gets dark early this time of year, so have a light source and extra layers to keep you warm.


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