A Skier Dies and a Tragic Rescue

At 3:20 p.m. on Saturday, February 29, Andrew Hryb, 36, of Darien, Ct., and his brother Alexander, 35,  of Norwalk, Ct., boarded the Sensation Quad, planning to ski a backcountry zone off Stowe Mountain Resort’s Spruce Peak. More than 35 inches had fallen in the area over the last four days and everywhere skiers were venturing out of bounds to find first tracks in what felt like bottomless powder.

The two brothers had skied this area, known locally as “The Birthday Bowls,” before. It’s an area that drops down the back side of Spruce Peak through glades to the east side of Smuggler’s Notch,  the mountain gap between Stowe Mountain Resort and Smuggler’s Notch Resort.

“At 5:30 p.m., one of the brothers texted a friend that they were having difficulty finding their way,”  said Neil Van Dyke, Search and Rescue Coordinator for Vermont’s Department of Public Safety and a former leader at Stowe Mountain Rescue. “They had a topo map and apparently were experienced skiers, but just got turned around up there,” Van Dyke said.

At 6:30 p.m. a 911 call came in from one of the brothers.

Stowe Search and Rescue responded, driving up the Route 108, Notch Road, and located the skiers at around 8:30 pm. Alexander was in contact with them by phone, stranded at the top of a 220-foot cliff.

They found Andrew’s body near the base of the cliff.

According to a release by Vermont State Police, the brothers traveled an estimated 1.5 to 2 miles from Sensation Quad lift at Spruce Peak through the woods before coming to the top an ice climbing route known as Doug’s Route, located across the Notch from the Hellbrook Trail.  It appears that Andrew lost his footing while trying to look over the edge of the approximately 220-foot cliff and fell.

“This was one of the most difficult rescue operations I’ve experienced,” said Van Dyke. “Stowe Mountain Rescue started to go up to one of the cliff bands where Andrew had fallen but made the decision early on that it was too risky,” Van Dyke said.

In the growing darkness Van Dyke put in a call to the Army Mountain Warfare School, the national mountain warfare training arm for the U.S. Army, which is based at Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho, Vermont and trains regularly in the cliff bands and rugged terrain of Smuggler’s Notch. Temperatures dropped below 20 degrees in Stowe at 6 pm and continued dropping down to around 12 degrees.

Under the leadership of Mountain Warfare School instructor, Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Dearborn, a team of five soldiers showed up to assist Stowe Mountain Rescue’s team of seven. Two members of Colchester’s Search and Rescue team were also on hand.

Ice climbing is part of the Army Mountain Warfare School training in Smuggler’s Notch. Photo courtesy Army Mountain Warfare School

“We don’t use the Mountain Warfare School often,” said Van Dyke, “but when the chips are down those guys are world class and they were really the difference here. They were able to climb up a mixed ice and rock route up to where Andrew’s body was. It was then another 200 feet of sheer ice, a technical ice climb, to get to Alexander’s location and they were able to lower Alexander down.” The rescue operation didn’t conclude until about 1:40 am on Sunday morning. The incident was considered an accident and Andrew’s injuries were consistent with the fall. The accident happened on state land, well outside the ski area boundaries.

The Army Mountain Warfare School training in Smuggler’s Notch. Photo by Abagael Giles

Performing rescue operations off cliff bands in the Notch has been part of the Mountain Warfare School training (see The Mountain Warriors, a story by Abagael Giles in Vermont Sports magazine) and as an instructor, Sgt. Dearborn has had experience setting up simulated casualty rescues on cliff bands of 120 feet in the Notch, according to an article on the U.S. Army website.

“Alexander was on a flat plateau above the cliff, uninjured, but the snow was so deep he couldn’t make his way back up and we made the decision that with the limited personnel we had, the rescue would work better from the Notch Road,” he said.

Van Dyke, speaking by phone on Monday, was somber. ““Many of us can see ourselves in very similar situations. It’s not unusual for those of us who recreate in the backcountry to take risks or to find ourselves in sketchy situations.  Ninety-nine times out 100, we come out ok, but sometimes it doesn’t happen that way and we need to be careful about finger pointing,” he said.

Van Dyke also posted a personal note on Ski+RideVt’s Facebook page:

“I would venture to say that virtually all of us who love the backcountry have at some point in our lives (likely more than once) pushed the envelope a tad. Many would argue that a bit of adventure and uncertainty contributes to our enjoyment. You can put me in that group.

Almost always we make it through, head for home, have a beer and share a laugh and a good story about our adventure. Then on rare (very rare in fact) occasions, things don’t turn out so well and something like what happened last night occurs.

In the ultimate wisdom of our 20/20 hindsight could things have played out differently? Of course, but the fact is that sometimes really bad things happen to really good people in circumstances similar to where we have placed ourselves at times.

Let’s keep our thoughts and prayers with the friends and family of a fellow skier who won’t have an opportunity to play another day in our great outdoors.

Note: This post has been updated as new information has been made available.

Featured photo: Looking at the east side of Smuggler’s Notch and the cliff bands above where the accident is believed to have occurred. Photo by Scott Braaten/Stowe Mountain Resort.


Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.

8 thoughts on “A Skier Dies and a Tragic Rescue

  • March 2, 2020 at 5:35 PM

    Tears in my eyes after reading this to the end… RIP to Andrew and Thank You to all those involved with the rescue operation.

  • March 2, 2020 at 7:28 PM

    I have few words other than RIP Andrew; you and your brother got caught up in a bad situation. And Neil, you and your crew and the Army Mountain Warfare are incredible stewards helping others find safety. Neil, you said it beautifully; we should cast no stones on these two men. We’ve all been in similar situations and mostly things turn out ok. Easy to judge but not the point here. We all value life, adventure, family. I am so sorry for all involved in this tragedy.

  • March 2, 2020 at 9:24 PM

    Start a chant “OB after 3 is not for me!”, and thank those who care enough to climb that gully in the dark, geez…

  • March 2, 2020 at 11:25 PM

    RIP Andrew! I’ve been in a similar circumstance about 13 years ago pushing the envelope up in the backcountry of the Highlands Bowl all for the untouched white gold. Traversed too far right and was cliffed out when trying to traverse back left into the bowl. I was with a local woman who was very familiar with the terrain but that didn’t matter as it happened so fast. So we proceeded to make our way down fighting against the clock, daylight and temps…in the end we were very lucky and made it out 6 hours later but not without tribulations.
    We all love these mountains that God has provided us and sometimes i believe that when things like this happen, Andrew now has the pleasure of riding these mountains we love for eternity in the ultimate adventure with an endless bliss of powder and sublime paradise! Rest In Peace you powder hound Andrew! Grace and peace to all your family and friends!

  • March 3, 2020 at 8:13 AM

    Incredible story, kudos to the Army Mountain Warfare team. Condolences on your loss.

  • March 4, 2020 at 5:32 AM

    Stowe Mountain Rescue does an incredible job and ate wise enough to know when even they need help. That area is so fortunate to have that team. Oh, and Neil is AWESOME! A terrific guy.

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  • March 5, 2020 at 7:50 AM

    My son Nicholas Benedix, a backcountry adventurer, whether it be hiking, rock climbing, or skiing, loved the thrill of it all but unfortunately yes that can lead to some risky situations but I guess he never thought it could lead to tragedy. With all the training, research and safety gear, things can still turn upside down. Nicholas loved the challenges and accomplished so much for his own soul and the decisions made on April 11 2019 took his life in an avalanche on MT Washington. I salute the search and rescue teams that do an amazing job to hopefully turn a bad situation into a happy ending – unfortunately not always the case. Alex, I’m happy you are home safely with family and that you keep Andrew’s spirit alive by doing what the two of you loved doing together.
    Andrew…adventure in peace with my son Nicholas.

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