LEADVILLE -- Eight cross-country skiers in a Utah school group were hospitalized for frostbite Friday after wandering for almost 24 hours in subzero temperatures near Leadville, authorities said.
The eight were among 16 -- three teachers and 13 students ages 15 to 17 -- who left Salt Lake City on Monday on a field trip from Realms of Inquiry, said Ross Jones, headmaster of the private school.
You could drive up the auto road to near the top of Mt. Mansfield. There's a large outdoor deck attached to the Octagon (a small restaurant with restrooms) that has fantastic views.
Any time your socks freeze to your feet, you don't have the right equipment," said Larry Everett, the search team leader. "Anything that turns out well is fine with us, but sometimes you want to take a whack at people because they don't have a clue about what they are doing."
Everett said the teachers put the group at risk by ignoring such basic rules as keeping the group together. He said they left the main trail for a shortcut without a map.
"They didn't know what they didn't know," Everett said.
But the headmaster said it was "unrealistic to say they were improperly equipped because they got wet after more than 17 or 18 hours in the snow. I am honestly proud of these kids and the staff."
The ordeal began a few hours after the group left Uncle Bud's Hut at 11,380 feet about 10 a.m. Thursday, authorities said. The skiers were headed for their vehicles, which were parked about six miles away at a trailhead on Turquoise Lake west of Leadville.
Instead of going down the route they had taken up to the hut, they took a shortcut on the suggestion of a local resident, Jones said.
Instead of winding up at the trailhead, the group struggled in the snow, following Porcupine Gulch drainage for four to five miles until two chaperones and four teen-agers came out on U.S. 24 north of Leadville about 12:45 a.m. Friday, authorities said. Two more made their way to the highway about 3 a.m. Friday.
Everett said rescuers responded about midnight, when temperatures were near minus 20.