By Lt. Col. Steve Osterholzer
10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Public Affairs Officer
Members of the Fort Carson-based Special Forces Advanced Mountaineering Operations School recently conducted winter training that few Soldiers ever experience: ice climbing, an ascent of Longs Peak, snowmobiles and downhill skiing were all experiences unique to the unit’s Master Mountaineering Course.
For five weeks, the 11 students — all graduates of the Senior Mountaineering Course conducted here in the fall — learned critical skills unique to conducting movement in a winter mountain environment. Temperatures dipping to 10 below zero gave new meaning to “Extreme Cold Weather Training.” Several of the students, mostly from various Special Forces Groups around the country, were from the South.
The course was designed to be a “train the trainer” type of instruction, as the students now will take their newly-acquired skills back to their Special Forces units and government agencies. Special Forces Soldiers must be adept at a wide variety of infiltration/movement techniques, to include operating in a mountainous winter environment.
“The biggest challenge for most of the students was the altitude change,” said a cadre noncommissioned officer. “At times, it just turned them into zombies.”
The training concentrated on three primary areas: mountain mobility operations, high alpine movement techniques and extreme cold weather operations. Much of the training focused on the challenges of simply getting from point A to point B amidst 14,000-feet mountains buried under several feet of snow. Downhill and cross country skiing, snowmobile movements and ice climbing were all in a day’s work for these “Mountain Warriors.”
Rope movements, avalanche rescue and snow shelter construction were other areas they trained on.
“An ascent of a 14,000 (foot) mountain is challenging under any conditions,” said one of the Special Forces cadre. “Scaling Longs Peak in winter really tested the students’ skill and determination in these extreme conditions.”
Training was conducted at Breckenridge Ski Resort, the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park and national forest land near Gunnison. Several 4th Infantry Division Soldiers were able to participate in the training as the cadre honed its instruction techniques in downhill skiing as a handful of the division Soldiers served as students on the slopes of Breckenridge during trainup in late February.
The learning curve was steep.
“For one of the students, it was his first time on skis,” said a cadre member. “Within just a few days he had to go from essentially being a beginner on the bunny hill to descending black diamond runs, skinning up the mountain and pulling a sled full of gear.”
The students had to utilize all their newly-acquired skills in a culmination exercise, where they planned and executed a night raid.
“Special Forces Soldiers are unique warriors,” said a cadre NCO. “The harsh weather conditions, high altitudes and extreme terrain pushed them to their limits. They now will take these hard-won skills back to their unit and serve as subject-matter experts in the demanding mission of mountaineering operations.”